U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki has been invited to Taiwan in what would be Washington's first high-level visit to the island since 2000, officials said Tuesday.
China has claimed sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan since 1949, when Mao Zedong's forces won the Chinese civil war and Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists (KMT) fled to the island.
Beijing asks that its diplomatic allies, including Washington, avoid official contact with Taiwan.
Representatives of Taiwan's Veterans Affairs Commission recently met Shinseki in the United States to extend the invitation, said Hans Song, the commission's overseas liaison department director.
Taiwan's commission, which was founded in 1954 when Taiwan stood on the brink of war with China, has modeled itself on its U.S. counterpart and has used U.S. money to build hospitals.
Because the Taiwan veterans system has studied the U.S. system, we hope he can give us some suggestions, Song said.
Shinseki has not decided whether to accept the invitation, a spokesman for the de facto U.S. embassy in Taipei said.
Taiwan, where today's KMT government seeks to improve ties with China, may have sought Beijing's approval before inviting the U.S. cabinet-level official, analysts say.
I wouldn't rule it out, given the multiple channels that exist between the two sides, said Lin Chong-pin, strategic studies professor at Tamkang University in Taipei.
Former transportation secretary Rodney Slater was the last U.S. official to visit Taiwan. He came in 2000 to attend an annual Taiwan-U.S. business conference.
(Reporting by Ralph Jennings; Editing by Bill Tarrant)