The most dangerous man in Asia has bouffant hair, platform shoes and a huge collection of Hollywood videos. And now Kim Jong-Il, who runs the world’s biggest prison colony, and a nuclear weapons factory, is up to something new—and North Korea watchers fear it may be his most dangerous game yet. The reclusive leader has been on the move for a flurry of deal-making. He earlier this year completed a surprise tour of southern China, which climaxed in his booting guests out of a five-star hotel just over the border from capitalist Hong Kong. And then he decided to hold talks with his super-wealthy neighbour, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, in meeting rooms in Beijing. At the same time, Kim has admitted starting a nuclear weapons program and is involved in a complex stand-off with the international community involving weapons, food aid and alleged illicit exports. Kim’s activities are of great interest to non-governmental organizations, as they are often the only groups allowed to have contact with the ordinary people of the country. North Korea is often described as the world’s biggest gulag, as its estimated 23 million citizens are not allowed to leave, even if their government starves them to death. The country has one of the world’s worst human rights records, and it allowed famine in the 1990s to kill between 600,000 and 3.5 million people, before outside food aid reduced the death toll. Since then, Kim’s nuclear weapons program has curtailed the import of food from donors.Fears of famine returned early last year when the World Food Program rang warning bells, but it is believed this was offset by a better-than-average 2005 cereal harvest. Yet now the sudden blur of activity from the “hermit kingdom” has raised concern that Kim has recognized that unless he makes major changes, the collapse of his kingdom has become inevitable. Kim’s end game, whenever it begins, can progress only one of two ways: by the total crumbling of the present system, or by a drastic increase in economic and/ or political freedom. Kim’s interest in China suggests that he would prefer a model where economic reforms are not accompanied by corresponding reforms in personal freedom. The population is constantly told by state media that they are living in the world’s most successful country. However, economic growth has been almost stagnant in North Korea since the 1970s, went into reverse in the 1990s, and is estimated to be running at less than two per cent a year in the 2000s. While North Korean citizens are prevented from taking part in trade outside the country’s borders, observers fear that the regime is making money through three major illicit activities: drug-running, the sale of nuclear weapons material and the counterfeiting of US currency. North Korean officials always poured scorn on claims that Kim led a hedonistic life while forcing his people to scratch out an austere existence. However, he was seen to down ten glasses of wine during a 2000 visit with his South Korean counterpart. Kim certainly has some interesting role-models when it comes to dealing with international affairs, large weapons and nuclear missiles: his 20,000-piece video collection is reputed to contain all the James Bond movies.