TAIPEI - Taiwan and China must do everything possible to avoid war and it is the responsibility of both sides' leaders to ensure peace, former Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou told a senior Chinese official on Thursday.

Ma arrived in China on Monday, the first time a former or sitting Taiwanese president has visited the country since the defeated Republic of China government fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong's communists.

Meeting Song Tao, head of China's Taiwan Affairs Office, in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, Ma said maintaining the peaceful and stable development of relations is the "general mainstream view of Taiwanese society".

It is the common responsibility of the "principals" on both sides of the Taiwan Strait to strive for all opportunities that are conducive to enhancing peace, Ma said, according to a transcript of his comments provided by Ma's office in Taipei.

"The two sides must maintain exchanges, cooperate together, and do everything possible to avoid war and conflict."

China has yet to provide its read out of the meeting.

Ma is visiting China at a time of heightened tension between Taipei and Beijing, as China ramps up military and diplomatic pressure to try and force the democratically governed island to accept Chinese sovereignty.

Ma, who was in office from 2008-2016, met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Singapore in late in 2015 shortly before current Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen was elected.

He is not scheduled to see Xi on this trip, but Ma's office has said he is open to whatever meetings China sets up.

Tsai rejects China's sovereignty claims, saying only the island's people can decide their future. She has repeatedly offered talks with China but been rebuffed, as Beijing views her as a separatist.

Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party has criticised Ma's trip, saying he should use the opportunity to tell Xi to stop China's almost daily military harassment of the island.

Taiwan's main opposition party the Kuomintang, which Ma is a senior member of, says it is vital to speak to China to try and lessen tensions.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Bernadette Baum)