Ma Ying-jeou is the first former President of Taiwan to travel to China. In the midst of heightened tensions between China and the democratic island republic, the 73-year-old landed in the Chinese metropolis of Shanghai. This was announced by the Taiwanese opposition party Kuomintang (KMT), to which Ma belongs. Ma is the first former or current head of state from Taiwan to visit the People’s Republic.

Just before leaving, Ma said he wanted to honor his ancestors and organize student exchanges during his 12-day trip. He hopes that the youth exchange will help improve relations and “lead to peace more quickly.”

Ma ruled the island republic from 2008 to 2016. Under his leadership, Taiwan and China drew closer. In late 2015, Ma met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Singapore. Relations have cooled under the new Taiwanese government of President Tsai Ing-wen.

A visit by the former Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, in August last year exacerbated tensions. China responded with missile tests and military maneuvers, during which a naval and air blockade and a conquest of Taiwan were practiced.

Michelle Lin, spokeswoman for Taiwan’s ruling party DPP, criticized the ex-president’s trip. The KMT ignores the fact that China is oppressing Taiwan. Other opposition parties had asked Ma to cancel the trip altogether.

Taiwan’s President Tsai plans to make state visits to Guatemala and Belize later this week. Stopovers in New York and Los Angeles are also planned, which should cause irritation in Beijing.

Taiwan has had an independent government since 1949, but China considers the island part of its territory and opposes any form of official diplomatic contact between Taiwan and other countries.