Chinese and Taiwanese national flags are displayed alongside a military airplane in this illustration taken April 9, 2021.
Chinese and Taiwanese national flags are displayed alongside a military airplane in this illustration taken April 9, 2021. Reuters / DADO RUVIC

Ukraine's stiff resistance against the invasion by Russian forces could be a model for Taiwan to defend itself should China choose to violate the island's "sovereignty" by attacking, a senior U.S. defense official told a Senate hearing on Thursday.

The United States, like most countries, does not have formal ties with Taiwan but is its main arms supplier, and has long urged it to buy cost effective and mobile defense systems - so-called "asymmetric" weapons - to counter China's more powerful military.

"I think the situation we're seeing in Ukraine right now is a very worthwhile case study for them about why Taiwan needs to do all it can to build asymmetric capabilities, to get its population ready, so that it can be as prickly as possible should China choose to violate its sovereignty," Mara Karlin, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans and Capabilities, said.

Under the United States' "one China" policy, Washington only acknowledges China's stance that the island belongs to it, but takes no position on Taiwan's sovereignty.

China bristles at any reference to democratically self-governed Taiwan as independent, and Beijing's ambassador to Washington warned in January that U.S. encouragement of independence could trigger a military conflict between the two superpowers.

China's embassy in Washington did not respond immediately to a request for comment on Karlin's remark to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Jessica Lewis, Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs, told senators that the United States continues to urge Taiwan to procure asymmetric systems, which had been "used to great effect in Ukraine."

Taiwan needs to prioritize short-range air defense, naval sea mines and coastal defense and cruise missiles, Lewis said, adding that the United States and Taiwan were increasingly seeing eye-to-eye on what qualified as an asymmetric system.

"We're working with them on that today. I think we have a much deeper understanding of that right now," Lewis said.

Lewis said Taiwan also needed to take a cue on reserve force reforms from Ukraine, which has volunteer territorial defense units and around 900,000 reservists, and that its population "has to be ready to fight."

"Obviously we don't want there to be a conflict in Taiwan," Lewis said. Taiwan has just created "an all-out defense mobilization organization" and is working with the U.S. National Guard in the development stage, Lewis said.