Harry Harris reportedly to resign after US presidential election in November

Posted on : 2020-04-10 17:54 KST Modified on : 2020-04-10 18:11 KST
Increasing tension between S. Korea-US alliance put strain on US ambassador to Seoul
Suspected COVID-19 patients get tested at a clinic in Seoul’s Gangnam District on Apr. 8. (Park Jong-shik, staff photographer)
Suspected COVID-19 patients get tested at a clinic in Seoul’s Gangnam District on Apr. 8. (Park Jong-shik, staff photographer)

US Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris has reportedly indicated that he means to resign after the US presidential election this November.

“US Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris has said privately that he doesn’t plan to stay on beyond the November US presidential election, regardless of whether President Donald Trump wins another term,” Reuters reported on Apr. 9, citing five anonymous sources.

Harris reportedly voiced his frustration that “his time in Seoul has been marked by increasing acrimony between the two longtime allies.” Reuters contrasted this with previous ambassadors, who “each served about three years and generally enjoyed good personal rapport with South Koreans.”

Over the past year, South Koreans have been angered by American demands for its ally to shoulder a larger share of the cost of mutual defense.

“It is unclear whether Harris has already tendered his resignation, but as part of his retirement plans he has built a house in Colorado,” Reuters said.

Harris purportedly upset with racist comments from S. Korean public

According to one source, Harris’s decision was apparently impacted by the excessive personal attention he has received. This implies that Harris’ Japanese heritage has been a bone of contention in South Korea.

Harris is Japanese-American, the son of a Japanese woman and a US soldier who served in Japan. He was appointed ambassador to South Korea in July 2018, following service as head of the US Navy’s Pacific Command.

When the South Korean government hinted that it might permit individual tourism to North Korea in an independent effort to jumpstart inter-Korean cooperation, amid an impasse in denuclearization talks between the US and North Korea, Harris suggested that any such measures should be deliberated in advance with the US. His remarks led to criticism that he was meddling in South Korea’s internal affairs; some even took issue with his mustache, claiming that he bore a disturbing resemblance to the Japanese governor-generals who managed the Japanese Empire’s colonial occupation of Korea.

During a meeting with foreign correspondents in January, Harris brought up the mustache affair, complaining that he was being criticized in the South Korean press and on social media for his ethnic heritage, particularly his Japanese roots.

“He wouldn’t openly say he’s stressed out or like ‘life is hard’ — he’s a four-star admiral and has been through a lot,” the source said. “But no one likes to deal with people who are ungrateful for your hard work, and throwing racist slurs isn’t the right way to treat an ally who has such deep ties and fondness for your country.”

On Thursday, the US embassy in South Korea responded to reports in the foreign press that Harris is discussing plans for his resignation. According to the embassy, Harris remains committed to doing his part to strengthening the ROK-US alliance. “Ambassador Harris serves at the pleasure of the president. He remains energized to continue to serve the United States,” an embassy spokesperson said.

“As he has said frequently, ‘There is no better place to serve as US Ambassador, and no better partner and ally for the United States, than the Republic of Korea,’” the spokesperson said.

“His commitment to strengthening the US-ROK alliance through active engagement with government interlocutors, the wonderful people, and the independent media in the Republic of Korea remains ironclad.”

By Lee Jung-ae and Kim So-youn, staff reporters

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