U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris poses at his residence in Seoul, South Korea, Jan. 16, 2020.
STARS AND STRIPES
By AARON KIDD | STARS AND STRIPESPublished: January 13, 2021
Retired Navy admiral Harry Harris’ rocky two and a half years as U.S. ambassador to South Korea are coming to a close.
The 40-year veteran, who led U.S. Indo-Pacific Command before retiring and taking the ambassadorship in July 2018, announced his departure Wednesday in a tweet laden with American and South Korean flag emojis.
“As has been reported, my time as [U.S.] Ambassador is ending. I’ll depart my post next week,” he wrote in the message, which was accompanied by photos of his official Seoul residence’s snow-covered grounds. “… As I’ve said many times, there’s no better place to serve as [U.S.] ambassador & no better friend & ally than [South Korea].
In April, a Reuters report citing five sources said Harris was considering leaving his post after the presidential election, whether President Donald Trump was reelected or not.
Harris had become the focal point for South Korean criticism over Trump’s demands that Seoul sharply increase its share of costs for stationing 28,500 U.S. troops on the divided peninsula. At one point, several anti-American activists broke into his official residence to protest the demands.
South Korean and U.S. negotiators resumed talks Jan. 4 to forestall another furlough of local employees of the U.S. military, like the one that idled about 4,500 in April. The South Korean government in June provided $200 million to keep those employees working through 2020.
The Reuters report said Harris had expressed increasing frustration with the drama over the unresolved talks as well as U.S. criticism of South Korea’s decision to end an intelligence-sharing deal with Japan.
Harris also faced criticism over a controversial mustache he grew after his four decades in the military. The facial hair irritated some South Koreans who associated it with 1910-45 Japanese colonial rule of the peninsula. Many Japanese governors had mustaches.
The ambassador, who was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and an American Navy officer, shaved the mustache in July, saying it made wearing a mask to guard against the coronavirus more uncomfortable in the summer heat.
“Glad I did this. For me it was either keep the ‘stache or lose the mask. Summer in Seoul is way too hot & humid for both,” he tweeted at the time. “#COVID guidelines matter & I’m a masked man.”
However, he also acknowledged his facial hair had become “a point of some fascination” among South Koreans.