The International Department moves from diplomacy to 'exchange of ideas' China's shadow foreign ministry has lifted the veil on its activities, using a first-ever news conference to describe how it now focuses on promoting trade instead of ideology. For decades, the Communist Party's International Department and its pre-revolution precursor promoted fraternal relations with fellow ruling communist and workers' parties and with left-wing organisations in democracies. It still does - receiving several delegations a year from nations such as North Korea, Laos and Vietnam, and sending delegations in return to these communist neighbours. But its exchanges with political parties abroad focused more on the exchange of ideas than on state-to-state diplomacy, the department's deputy director, Cai Wu, said yesterday. He called the arrangement a 'division of labour'. Describing relations between the Communist Party and North Korea's Workers' Party, Mr Cai said that since China's reforms started, such party-to-party contacts had transcended ideological differences - a reference to the contrasting pace of political development in the two countries. This year, China has shrugged off its low-key mediation in the nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula to take a leading role in brokering renewed peace talks between the US, North Korea and its neighbours. Central to the change of approach was the appointment of Dai Bingguo as foreign affairs vice-minister. Mr Dai, who headed the party's international department for five years, was 'very familiar with' North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, said Mr Cai. The scope of the International Department has grown far beyond political interests. These days its remit covers the expansion of trade and economic ties. The department's China Economic Co-operation Centre was a 'matchmaker' for trade deals, Mr Cai said. Last year, the centre's Li Changchun, formerly Guangdong party secretary, led business delegations to Russia, Poland and Germany and struck business deals at a Moscow trade show. Mr Li is now the party's propaganda chief. With help from the international department, renowned Beijing roast duck restaurant Quanjude was able to find a Japanese partner to open a highly popular restaurant in downtown Tokyo, Mr Cai said. The deputy director did not avoid ideology altogether yesterday. He said the collapse of the Soviet Union had given the Communist Party ample reason for reflection. The Soviet Union disintegrated because of its faulty model of socialism, and the party had drawn lessons from the historical event, Mr Cai said.