Trump’s take on burden-sharing aside, Harris has had another controversial item to defend: his mustache.
That’s because his styled chevron mustache reminds many South Koreans of the hairy upper lip often sported by their former Japanese colonial rulers.
Harris, who was born in Japan and whose mother is Japanese, has dismissed the criticism as a swipe at his heritage.
“I have been criticized in the media here, especially on social media, because of my ethnic background, because I’m a Japanese American,” he told reporters at the news conference Thursday. “And those that will criticize me for having a mustache link me with the Japanese governor generals who ruled Korea during the occupation of Korea 1910 to 1945. To those people, I say that you’re cherry-picking history."
The ambassador went on to list several Korean independence movement leaders who he said had similar ’staches.
Harris defended his decision to keep the look — which he has likened to a “superimposition of cat’s whiskers” — as no more than a lifestyle change after leaving the Navy.
“I wanted to make a break from my military life to my new life,” he said. “I couldn’t grow taller. I couldn’t grow hair on top of my head.” But he could grow a mustache. “Nothing more nefarious than that,” he added.
His mustache apologism hasn’t snipped the outrage.
Japan occupied the Korean Peninsula with an iron first, traumatizing Koreans. This history remains highly contentious today: The two countries still clash over Seoul’s calls for Tokyo to pay reparations to Korean victims of forced labor, forced sexual slavery and other abuses during World War II.
With a nuclear North Korea just across the 38th parallel, Trump’s erratic engagement with the region has left many South Koreans worried. His calls for the U.S. ally to pay more for hosting U.S. troops has further deepened resentment. In October, Seoul police arrested at least 19 Korean students for trying to scale the walls around Harris’s residence in protest of the presence and cost of U.S. troops in the country.
Harris is hardly the only U.S. ambassador facing flak for Trump’s foreign policies. But at least on the matter of his mustache, he’s not backing down.
An earlier version of this story misidentified the location of the border between the two Koreas.
Min Joo Kim contributed from Seoul.