SCOOP NEWS ANALYSIS - British Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook's, arrival in New Zealand prior to September's APEC forum caused Thailand Foreign Ministry official, Kobsak Chitikul, to ask, "Why is Mr Robin Cook here?" Britain is not a member of APEC. Good question. In this report. John Howard delves into the Timor Gap and comes up with a less charitable answer than Tony Blair would perhaps be comfortable with.
It turned out that Mr Cook's arrival was for an emergency meeting on East Timor. The meeting, however, took place with the notable absence of the foreign minister's of APEC members China, Malaysia and Brunei Darassalam.
Many in Asia saw Britain's interference in East Timor as a residue of colonial rule. Perhaps realising this Mr Cook did not stay long and after speaking to the press hoped back on a plane to the UK.
Later, after APEC, Britain again played a significant role in the crisis when it sponsored the UN's 15 September resolution to mandate an East Timor peacekeeping force.
And then we have Australian PM John Howard.
It has now emerged that back in January Australia's Prime Minister, John Howard, had by letter badgered Indonesian president, B J Habibie, to hold the independence referendum.
A US State Department official has since said of this letter, "The Howard letter provoked the whole thing. Now Australia has the responsibility to follow through."
Given the growing bitterness in Indonesia toward Australia's role in fostering the referendum, one could perhaps not pick a worse candidate to implement the British-sponsored UN resolution that established the peacekeeping force.
Although the Australian-led force flies the flag of human rights, another purpose is undoubtedly strategic access to some of the world's richest oil and gas deposits in the Timor Sea off East Timor.
And in pursuing these objectives Australia will very helpfully gain access to those reserves for British and Britain-affiliated mutli-national oil companies. A major part of the "Blair Project" involves deploying a reorganised British oil geopolitical power.
There are believed to be huge untapped oil deposits in the Timor Sea. As long as East Timor remained in firm Indonesian hands, the oil would be controlled by the Indonesian state oil company, Pertamina.
Now, on the other hand, because East Timor has become independent, BP and Royal Dutch Shell will be able to join in. In this context it seems that Britain is using Australia and New Zealand - at least in part - as stalking horses.
After a long hiatus, oil is again becoming a major geopolitical power theme for British interests. Over the last year, there has been a huge consolidation of oil assets into British hands with BP becoming number two in the world after Exxon-Mobil with Shell number three.
If British oil wins East Timor, along with their dominating role in rapidly expanding Caspian Sea region, the North Sea, as well as in Alaska and Nigeria, they will be in a commanding position globally to dictate oil policies.
The vast oil and gas deposits underneath the Timor Sea while not yet fully surveyed have been proven, In a September 3 article in the Australian Financial Review noted, " oil companies have spent $700 million exploring the Timor Gap so far. There have been 41 wells drilled and all but seven have disclosed hydrocarbons."
The Timor Gap Treaty between Australia and Indonesia presently divides the area between the off-shore shelves of Australia, which extends 200 kilometres into the Timor Sea, and that of Timor, which drops off sharply. The Treaty is in three zones A,B and C with various degrees of Indonesian and Australian control in each.
Once East Timor becomes independent it seems likely the whole treaty will have to be renegotiated, this time with East Timor, and not Indonesia sharing in control of the oil with Australia.
The East Timorese are likely to be very grateful for Australia and New Zealand assistance in enforcing their independence vote but British oil looks likely to be the principal beneficiary.
And perhaps that answers the Thailand Foreign Ministry official's question about why British Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, dashed to Auckland for an East Timor emergency meeting prior to APEC.
The good old-fashioned imperialist grab for raw materials is a compelling reason for the East Timor crisis.
One would think, however, that Australia and New Zealand might have learned something by now about the politics behind fighting and perhaps dying in British-provoked wars.
Afterall, this was a British UN resolution and British Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, led the charge for this engagement, with Australia's Alexander Downer bringing up the rear.