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US ambassador forced to defend moustache after South Koreans criticise ‘disrespectful’ facial hair

Critics have linked Harry Harris’ moustache to Japan’s brutal colonial rule, reports say

Conrad Duncan
Monday 30 December 2019 18:55 GMT
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US ambassador Harry Harris has said he grew a moustache to create a 'break' with his career as a military officer
US ambassador Harry Harris has said he grew a moustache to create a 'break' with his career as a military officer (AP)

The US ambassador to South Korea has defended his facial hair after suggestions his moustache was “disrespectful” to some people in the east Asian country.

Harry Harris, the US ambassador since July 2018, has said he grew a moustache to “make a break” between his career as a military officer and his new role as a diplomat.

“I tried to get taller but I couldn’t grow any taller, and so I tried to get younger but I couldn’t get younger. But I could grow a moustache so I did that,” Mr Harris told The Korea Times.

However, his facial hair has reportedly been poorly received in some parts, and associated with a “disrespectful and even coercive” approach by the US to the country.

Some critics have apparently connected it to Japan’s colonial rule of Korea, during which all eight governor-generals had moustaches.

US-Korean relations have become strained after Donald Trump reportedly demanded South Korea increases contributions to support US troops on the Korean Peninsula by roughly 400 per cent, or about $4.7bn (£3.6bn) in funding, in 2020.

The South Korean government has rejected US calls for increased spending so far and is likely to continue resisting the proposal, according to Scott Snyder, a senior fellow for Korea studies at the US-based Council on Foreign Relations.

Criticism of Mr Harris may also have a racial context, according to The Korea Times, due to his Japanese background.

The ambassador was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and an American US Navy officer.

“There are many Korean independence leaders that have moustaches, but no-one seems to focus on that,” Mr Harris said in response to criticism of his facial hair.

“All I can say is that every decision I make is based on the fact that I’m the American ambassador to Korea, not the Japanese-American ambassador to Korea.”

When asked if he would consider shaving off the moustache to improve relations with South Koreans, Mr Harris shrugged off the suggestion.

“You would have to convince me that somehow the moustache is viewed in a way that hurts our relationship,” he replied.

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