Oil and gas company Rex Tillerson, the new US Secretary of State, said the US won’t let the US be dragged “into a quaggle” with China over the use of the opium poppy by Chinese troops in East Timor, saying it is in the interests of all countries.
The comments came as Tillerson called the poppy trade a “red line” that has been crossed repeatedly by Beijing and its regional allies.
“I don’t think it is a red line,” Tillerson told reporters after meeting Indonesian President Joko Widodo, in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta.
“China has been using this as a tool to advance its interests and its political interests,” he said.
“But as you can see, it’s not just one issue.
It’s a multi-issue issue.”
Tillerson also defended his State Department’s efforts to push for China to stop using the poppy for opium production, calling the practice “disastrous”.
“It’s a violation of international law.
It harms both the opium growers and the farmers.
And it is destructive to people in the region,” Tillerson said.
The remarks came after a report from the International Narcotics Control Board said China has deployed troops and armoured vehicles to Manado in East Sulawesi, which borders East Timorese, where the opium is grown.
In recent months, China has expanded its involvement in East Indonesia, using the Manado opium plantation as a base for operations.
China’s military has deployed at least 1,400 troops and more than 2,000 armoured vehicles in the area since January, the ICSB said, adding that it is now a hub for Chinese troop and logistical support.