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However far-fetched it may sound, such speculation is not completely off the mark. Visits to the Korean Peninsula were a prelude to the demise of two of Mr. Hu’s predecessors. In May 1978, General Secretary Hua Guofeng, Mao Zedong’s successor, was in Pyongyang when his political enemy Deng Xiaoping staged the deadly anti-Hua propaganda campaign at home disguised as redefining criteria for Marxist truth, which laid the foundation for Hua’s ouster soon afterward.

In May 1989, amid a similar tense background of political intrigue at home, Communist Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang visited Pyongyang only to be summarily purged upon his return to Beijing a few days later. Zhao died in agony in 2005 while still under house arrest.

Miles Yu’s columns appear Thursdays. He can be reached at