China’s government has appointed a former deputy foreign minister to head the Communist Party department that handles much of its diplomacy with North Korea. Song Tao, 60, has replaced 66-year-old Wang Jiarui, who had held the position for 12 years, to become the minister of the party’s International Department, according to its website. The department handles much of the ruling Communist Party’s relations with foreign countries’ political parties and has held a particularly important role in liaison work with Pyongyang. READ MORE: China shifts focus in North Korea to regional stability as denuclearisation takes backseat China and North Korea are both socialist countries. The Communist Party of China and the Korean Workers’ Party traditionally have close relations,” said Cui Zhiying, a Korean affairs expert at Shanghai’s Tongji University. The department also plays an important role in relations with other communist-ruled countries such as Vietnam and Cuba. Wang has been a key figure in party-to-party diplomacy with North Korea over the past decade. He hosted five visits by North Korea’s late paramount leader Kim Jong-il, father of present supreme leader Kim Jong-un, as well as visits by many of the country’s envoys. He was also a frequent visitor to Pyongyang. READ MORE: Holding hands with top Chinese official, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un tells the world that Beijing stands by his side Song surprised many observers last month when he joined a delegation to Pyongyang in his capacity as general office deputy director of the party’s foreign affairs leading group. Song worked at the foreign ministry from 2001 to 2013 before assuming his role with the leading group. He was assigned to posts in India, Guyana and the Philippines and was promoted to vice foreign minister in 2011. Song was born in Jiangsu province and spent his early career in Fujian province working at a forestry college, an industrial research institute, in local government and at provincial state-owned 8companies. He was the assistant general manager of the Fujian Textile Company and the deputy president of Fujian International Trust and Investment Company in the late 1990s, when President Xi Jinping was a provincial leader. Song studied at Monash University in Australia and has a doctorate in economics.