ISLAMABAD: The third-generation Bhutto, regarded by many as the future leader of Pakistan, who believes China is a future global leader is in Beijing, having carried with him the legacy of his family and the party’s pro-China policy. Pakistan Peoples Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari left for China via Dubai yesterday to participate in the Asian Political Parties Special Conference on the Silk Road to be held from October 14 to October 16 in Beijing.

He is accompanied by former ambassador to the United States Senator Sherry Rehman, former National Assembly Deputy Speaker Faisal Karim Kundi and Political Secretary Jameel Soomro. The PPP delegation is likely to return by the end of the week. The Communist Party of China is holding the Asian Political Parties’ Special Conference on Silk Road in Beijing. The conference, themed New Vision of the Silk Road, Actions for Common Development, shall include three panels with their respective topics, political leadership: new consensus for political parties, people-to-people bonds: new dialogue between civilisations and economic integration: new impetus for development as well as deliberations on regional economic cooperation.

“Bilawal plans to interact with the Chinese politicians on the sidelines. The PPP chief is a strong advocate of enhancing the Pak-China ties to new levels,” a close aide of the young Bhutto told The Nation. “We will also mingle with the people coming from other countries during our stay,” he added. Another PPP leader said originally Asif Ali Zardari was thinking of visiting China, but because the top Chinese leadership will not be holding individual meetings on the sidelines, the plan was dropped.

“We decided to send Bilawal and Sherry Rehman. It is a party leaders’ meeting and Bilawal fits in as the PPP chairman,” the party leader said. Asked about the activities of the PPP chief on the sidelines, he said, “There will, of course, be meetings of the party leaders, but Bilawal would have hoped to meet the Chinese President or the Prime Minister which was not possible during this specific visit.” The members of over 50 political parties and organisations from more than 30 countries will participate in the conference. Parliamentary Committee on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) Chairman Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed will represent Pakistan.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is a vital part of the Silk Road Initiative – a vision and strategy of China to expand cultural and economic ties with Eurasian countries through cooperation and communication. In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road Initiative to promote connectivity, cooperation and common prosperity along the ancient land and maritime Silk Road trade routes.

The belt and road routes run through Asia, Europe and Africa, connecting the vibrant East Asia economic circle at one end and the developed European economic circle on the other, and encompassing countries with huge potential for economic development, according to an official publication by the Chinese government. Also in 2013, the Pakistani-China governments agreed to launch a landmark project called China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which will connect Pakistan’s deep sea Gwadar Port with China’s Xinjiang region.

Both Pakistan and China are discussing a number of mega projects under the rubric of the economic corridor in several fields like energy, infrastructure and connectivity which would revitalise Pakistan’s economy. The economic corridor, with a total investment of $ 46 billion, is a new glaring example of the close friendship between Pakistan and China. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s grandfather, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, laid the foundation of a strong friendship with China. As a foreign minister, he signed the Pakistan-China border agreement on March 2, 1963, followed by the Border Protocol in 1965.

These two agreements alone were instrumental in paving the way for a strong, durable, and multi-dimensional relationship in the years to come. During the period when most Western countries were in a bid to isolate China, Pakistan took the bold step of being the first non-socialist country to sign an air services agreement with China in August 1963 that linked China with other countries starting a regular air service from April 29, 1964. It was Bhutto who then provided a clear and pragmatic long-term framework for Pakistan’s relations with China. As a result, China became the principal source of military hardware and technology for Pakistan in addition to its involvement and support for important projects in the defence, heavy industries and infrastructure development.

Later, his mother Benazir Bhutto worked very hard to maintain the tradition of a special relationship with China laid down by her illustrious father, which in a way were sort of frozen during the regime of the military ruler Ziaul Haq.  She first visited China in 1972 on a state visit, accompanying her father who was President of Pakistan at that time. During that memorable visit, she had the opportunity of meeting with Premier Zhou Enlai and his wife. And even before her coming to power as prime minister on December 1, 1988, Benazir Bhutto had announced her first official foreign visit would be to China. Living up to her words, she did visit China in February 1989.

And Bilawal’s father Asif Ali Zardari, then President, appeared at a Pakistan-China renewable energy forum in Shanghai in July 2010, rekindling the vision of Benazir Bhutto who had envisaged gas pipelines, railway tracks and highways connecting Pakistan with China.