US ambassador to South Korea defends himself over moustache criticism 'linked to his ethnic background'

Jacob Jarvis
AP

A US ambassador to South Korea has defended himself against criticism of his moustache after it became a "point of fascination".

Harry Harris's facial hair has been critiqued due to people pointing out that the Japanese governors-general had moustaches during Japanese colonial rule between 1910 and 1945.

Mr Harris, 63, believes he is being targeted due to his ethnic background as a Japanese-American.

"My moustache, for some reason, has become a point of some fascination here," Harris said at the briefing on Thursday.

Harry Harris has defended his moustache (AFP via Getty Images)

He is also reported to have said he has drawn criticism "in the media here, especially in social media, because of my ethnic background, because I am a Japanese-American”.

Defending his choice to grow the facial hair in an interview in December, he said: "I didn't grow a moustache because of my Japanese heritage, because of the independence movement of Korea or even because of my dad. I grew it because I could and I thought I would and I did."

In a protest last year, protesters picked the facial hair off posters of Mr Harris's face.

"I understand the historical animosity that exists between both of the nations," Mr Harris said of the lingering tensions between South Korea and Japan.

"But I am not the Japanese-American ambassador to Korea — I am the American ambassador to Korea."

On Friday he also drew criticism from the highest levels of government in Seoul for suggesting that South Korea consult with Washington about the possibility of reopening tourism with North Korea.

He told international media in Seoul on Thursday it would be better for South Korea to run any plans to engage with North Korea through a joint working group established with the United States - to avoid any "misunderstandings" that could trigger sanctions.

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