SEOUL, South Korea — The U.S. ambassador to South Korea has some unusual explanations for the harsh criticism he’s faced in his host country. His mustache, maybe? Or a Japanese ancestry that raises unpleasant reminders of Japan’s former colonial domination of Korea?
Many South Koreans, however, have a more straight-forward explanation for Harry Harris’ struggle to win hearts and minds in Seoul, and it’s got more to do with an outspoken manner that they see as undiplomatic and rude.
Since arriving in Seoul in July 2018, Harris, a retired navy admiral born to a Japanese mother and an American navy officer, has been the focus of keen attention because of his military and ethnic background. The 63-year-old former U.S. Pacific Command chief has sometimes drawn criticism from those who take issue with his manner when dealing with South Koreans.
His mustache has become the subject of ribbing online, with jokes made about how it resembles those of Japanese colonial masters, who brutally occupied the Korean Peninsula from 1910-45. But there is more serious concern that the discord could widen a growing rift in Seoul’s relations with Washington at a time when diplomacy with rival North Korea seem in danger of imploding.