Across Asia, 2006 has been a year of shattered assumptions. It will go down as the year North Korea got the bomb, Thailand had the coup it was never supposed to have and Sri Lanka's ceasefire brought war, not peace. The impact - particularly of Kim Jong-il's nuclear test - is likely to be felt for years. Certainly, people of the region awoke to a much more dangerous place on the morning of Monday, October 9. At 5am, North Korean nuclear scientists exploded an estimated 1-kilotonne bomb at an isolated test site northeast of the capital. China - Pyongyang's last fraternal ally and patron - was given just 20 minutes notice. North Korea had forced its way into an elite club - the eight nations with a proven nuclear weapons capability. Its aftermath is further challenging the security assumptions that have governed East Asia for decades, raising questions about Japan's pacifist future and highlighting the rise of new hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. It has pushed China and South Korea closer together and driven a deeper wedge between Beijing and Pyongyang. And in one single act, North Korea challenged the effectiveness of the hardline US diplomacy of President George W. Bush and the pro-engagement 'sunshine policy' of South Korea. Many analysts note the weapon has also made any future military action against North Korea much more difficult - giving a paranoid, hermit regime greater security against invasion. 'There is always a temptation to portray Kim as somehow insane ... that is too easy. There is a cold logic at work here that must never be discounted,' a veteran diplomat said. That logic sees the New Year begin with nagging questions - can the genie be put back in the bottle? Can the combination of UN sanctions and diplomacy involving the US, China, Japan, Russia and South Korea force North Korea to scupper its secretive programme? The events of last week showed just how thorny that diplomatic effort has become. Senior envoys from the six nations met in Beijing to revive six-party talks Pyongyang had walked out on in September last year. Pyongyang's chief negotiator, Kim Kye-gwan, wanted North Korea to be dignified with the status of a nuclear power and demanded US financial sanctions be lifted. His US counterpart, Christopher Hill, stressed North Korea must first show a willingness to disarm, offering fresh incentives that did not exist before test. The future of the troubled six-party concept is now at risk - the five days of talks ending with no clear agreement, much less a date for future negotiations. History appears to offer little chance of a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. Just one nation - South Africa - has ever willingly scrapped nuclear weapons. Mr Kim can be expected to exploit that fact, playing for time over the coming months, regional diplomats and security analysts fear. With each passing month, his nuclear programme will grow more advanced and the stakes will grow. It will also prove harder to dismantle. Already, intelligence reports suggest North Korea has up to seven weapons. The prospect of a second test remains a constant threat in the weeks ahead. It is not all bleak, however. The North Korean test appeared to play right into the hands of Mr Abe, coming just days after he took power. With question marks over his lack of hard experience and a nationalistic, conservative make-up, the test allowed him to assert and define his policy ideas. It allowed him to exploit a more engaging side, giving him the chance to make good on pledges to take Sino-Japanese ties to a new level. In the weeks since, Mr Abe has warmed the chill in ties with China and South Korea that marked the reign of his predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi. So far, no side is raising the issue of his earlier visits to Tokyo's controversial Yasukuni war shrine and the warmth is expected to continue - for the short term at least. Preparations are now under way for Chinese leaders to visit Tokyo in the spring. Earlier in the year, China was confirmed as Japan's biggest trading partner for the first time - highlighting rapidly growing links between the region's two giant economies. Given the background of tensions fuelled by China's rise and an assertive, more nationalistic Japan, the North Korean test has brought darker suspicions to the surface, however. In the weeks after the test, Mr Abe was repeatedly forced to deny Japan now has its own nuclear ambitions, despite its pacifist stance stemming from its role as history's only victim of atomic weapons. Japan runs an extensive nuclear energy programme backed by its own uranium re-processing facility. Its scientists would have little trouble with the technology required to develop a weapon - and would also have access to domestic supplies of weapons-grade plutonium. Mr Abe, however, swiftly quelled the debate. He repeatedly stressed the need for a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. And he was in no mood to repeat his own 2002 assertions that Japan could hold small defensive nuclear weapons without infringing its pacifist constitution. That constitution is up for debate. Mr Abe is attempting to make good on long-held pledges to re-draft it to place Japan on a more normal military footing - a country able to more actively defend itself and work even more closely with its traditional military ally, the United States. But those changes, he said, would not go as far as Japan getting its own nukes - not now or in the future. The New Year begins with the military future of Thailand also under focus, as its new junta grapples with its promised return to democratic rule. A slew of long-held assumptions died beneath the tracks of the tanks that rolled across Bangkok on September 19. First to fall was the once popular view of tycoon prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra as Asia's last strongman. Then there was the conventional wisdom that suggested Thailand's proud democracy could never countenance another coup; that its soldiers had finally forsaken the coup-plagued days of the past. They had, after all, stayed firmly in their barracks for 15 years. It was a line propagated by military leaders right up to the eve of the coup. The fact that Thailand was marking 60 years on the throne by its beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej further dampened speculation. Mr Thaksin's demise after five years of popular, if controversial, rule started relatively slowly. Months of urban protest degenerated into an electoral impasse after the scrapping of Mr Thaksin's victory in an April 2 snap election he hoped would renew his mandate. The opposition Democrat Party risked its survival by boycotting the poll in protest at the ever-increasing grip of Mr Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai party. It was a gamble that paid off. The king expressed rare public concern at the mess, and the constitutional court annulled the result. After months of tension, the end came swiftly and bloodlessly. Mr Thaksin was in New York, hours away from addressing the UN General Assembly. He would never make his speech. His army chief, Sondhi Boonyaratkalin, wary of possible personnel changes that would tighten Mr Thaksin's grip on the military, swiftly asserted control of key points and media outlets across Bangkok. Mr Thaksin worked the phones, attempting to sideline General Sondhi and declare a state of emergency. It was a final act of impotence in a rule marked by bold moves but crippled by political miscalculation. To Thailand's elites, Mr Thaksin was brash new money, a political aberration that pushed the system to breaking point. The king swiftly acknowledged the new regime's hold on power. After a spell in exile in London, Mr Thaksin now flits about the region, emerging from shopping malls and restaurants to make cryptic hints about an eventual return. But General Sondhi is still there, the cautious leader of the self-styled National Security Council. The council sits above a nominally civilian interim government, headed by Surayud Chulanont - a retired solider respected for his work in getting the military out of politics. He served most recently as an adviser to the king. Despite earlier pledges, martial law has been lifted in only half the country, despite mounting public concern. Mr Thaksin has been offered no date for a possible return, even as preparations intensify for a new constitution and elections in October. General Sondhi last week expressed on-going concern about the security situation, citing arson attacks on schools in Thailand's north and northeast, Mr Thaksin's stronghold. Investigations are on-going into the excesses and conflicts of interest of Mr Thaksin, his family and associates. Despite considerable public and international pressure, charges have yet been laid. In one of his first acts of office, General Sondhi declared Mr Thaksin's administration corrupt. How that is finally proved is going to be one of the most closely watched events in the months ahead.