TAIPEI/SHANGHAI- Former Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou reached Shanghai on Monday for a 12-day trip.
He becomes the first Taiwanese leader to visit China which refused to recognise the independence of the self-governing island.
Ma’s trip comes amid increased tensions between China and Taiwan.
On Sunday, Honduras broke off relations with Taiwan and established diplomatic ties with China.
The diplomatic setback came just days before Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s scheduled visit to Guatemala and Belize starting March 29.
Taiwan’s presidential spokesperson Olivia Lin on Monday urged Beijing to receive Ma as a former state leader in accordance with international diplomatic etiquette.
Before departing, 73-year-old Ma, of the opposition Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), said he wanted to honour his ancestors during his first trip to mainland China and organise student exchanges.
“I hope that exchange of youngsters will help improve the atmosphere of cross-strait relations and bring peace here faster and sooner,’’ Ma told reporters at the Taoyuan International Airport.
Michelle Lin, spokeswoman for the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), on Monday, criticised Ma’s trip, saying that the KMT was ignoring the fact that China was suppressing Taiwan.
Some other opposition parties had also urged Ma to cancel his trip.
Tensions are rising across the Taiwan Strait.
Since Tsai took office in 2016, nine former allies of Taiwan have switched sides and established ties with China, after being offered economic incentives from Beijing.
China cut off all communication with Taiwan’s leadership in June 2016, one month after Tsai took office.
Under Ma’s leadership from 2008 to 2016, China and Taiwan enjoyed relatively smooth relations since 1949, when the KMT fled to Taiwan after losing the Chinese civil war.
In late 2015, Ma met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Singapore in a landmark meeting.
Ma’s delegation, which included former government officials and university students, was due to visit several Chinese cities, including Shanghai, Nanjing, Wuhan, Changsha, and Chongqing.
However, there were no plans for him to visit Beijing.
Ma’s office in Taipei confirmed the delegation’s arrival at Shanghai Pudong Airport late on Monday, saying that he was greeted by senior officials of China’s Taiwan Work Office at the airport.
Taiwanese local TV reports showed that Ma was waving as he walked out of the aeroplane.
He did not stop in the airport to speak, but departed for Nanjing, where he would give a speech on Tuesday. (dpa/NAN)