Tokyo (AsiaNews) The recklessness of Pyongyang's rulers risk plunging north-eastern Asia in another war. Two days ago, Japan blocked shipment of 125,000 tonnes of food as humanitarian aid to North Korea. It also announced that it might develop a missile defence system to counter the North Korean nuclear threat. Japan's harsh tone follows North Korea's mishandling of the missing Japanese nationals affair.
At the end of November, a Japanese delegation visited Pyongyang to find out what happened to ten unaccounted Japanese nationals abducted by agents of the North Korean regime. Few answers were forthcoming except for the cremated remains of Megumi Yokota, a woman who was kidnapped as 13-year-old girl in 1977 and who is said to have committed suicide in 1994. A man called Kim Chol-jun, who claimed to be Ms Yokota's husband, handed over her ashes to the Japanese delegation.
Although difficult, DNA tests on the remains were conducted at a forensic laboratory at Teikyo University and showed that the DNA did not match that of Ms Yokota's parents.
For Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda, "it is clear (North Korea) has violated the spirit of the Pyongyang Declaration," referring to the accord signed by Kim and Koizumi during a September 2002 summit.
The declaration stipulated that the two countries "would sincerely address outstanding problems between Japan and the DPRK (North Korea) based upon mutual trust in the course of achieving normalization." The cynicism of the Stalinist regime has confused lying for sincerity.
"The power of truth has proved stronger than evil," Shigeru Yokota, Megumi's 72-year-old father, told a news conference in Tokyo organised by the Association of the families of abductees. "With the anger of the people behind us, we now strongly demand that the government imposes economic sanctions on North Korea immediately.''
In his editorial page, Asahi Shimbun expressed public outcry asking "how long will the [Pyongyang regime] mock the sorrow of the abductees' families and the Japanese people?"
For many observers, the incident is dangerous not only in terms of Japanese-North Korean relations but also for regional security in north-eastern Asia.
Here is a summary of North Korea's reckless behaviour.
In the 1970s and 1980s, several Japanese nationals disappeared along Japan's western coastline. It was soon thought that North Korea was behind these actions. Japan's police was soon certain that this was true for at least 15 people.
For decades, Tokyo called on Pyongyang to provide explanations to no avail. The North Koreans repeatedly denied any responsibility.
In 2002 Prime Minister Koizumi took a calculated risk by going to North Korea to find a solution to this and other outstanding issues. In the end, he was successful for Mercurial Kim Jong-il acknowledged responsibility for the misdeeds and pledged that the surviving five abductees would be repatriated, something which actually happened. He also said that eight of the other ten abductees had died whilst the other two were never taken to North Korea. Japan's government refused to believe the claim.
To get additional information, Koizumi flew to Pyongyang in the summer of this year to urge for a more thorough and transparent investigation. Pyongyang's answer came in the big lie that was handed over to the Japanese delegation.
The incident will have consequences at the national level in Japan but also at the diplomatic and military levels for the wider region.
In Japan, public opinion and the country's political parties, including those of the opposition, are demanding economic sanctions be imposed on North Korea.
Prime Minister Koizumi is prepared to brave popular resentment and has made it clear that dialogue and pressure would be the only course for future negotiations with North Korea. In light of the fact that Tokyo is within range of North Korea's nuclear missiles, Mr Koizumi has few alternatives.
One effect has been to push Japan to rearm. On December 12, the Chief of Japan's Self-Defence Forces announced that Japan is considering developing its own missile defence system. On the short run, the incident might scuttle the six-nation talks (United States, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, Russia and China) over North Korea's nuclear programme.
Thus far, Seoul, Tokyo and Beijing had successfully resisted the more intransigent Bush administration. It is probable now that Japan might instead join the hard-line camp.