The threat of nuclear war has lingered on the peninsula for years – but the US ambassador’s mustache seems to have made the South Koreans sweat with anger.
Harry Harris, a former Navy admiral who was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and an American naval officer, he was accused of insulting his guests by increasing the controversial ornament.
His facial hair is reminiscent of many of the days of Japanese colonial rule between 1910 and 1945, during which all eight Japanese governors-general wore a mustache.
Tokyo’s dominance of the Korean peninsula is a continuing source of resentment South Korea, whose relations with the neighbor were damaged last year due to controversies over their war history.
During a protest outside the American embassy in December, activists tore off the mustache hair from the posters on the ambassador’s face.
Speaking to reporters, Harris mentioned public comments about his legacy and the mockery of his mustache, despite many famous Korean historical figures sporting similar facial hair.
“My mustache, for some reason, has become a point of charm here,” he said.
“I understand the historical animosity that exists between both nations.
“But I’m not the Japanese-American ambassador to Korea – I’m the American ambassador to Korea.”
In a December interview with the Korea Times, Harris said he raised his mustache to mark his change of role.
“I wanted to take a break between my life as a military officer and my new life as a diplomat,” he said.
“I tried to get taller but I couldn’t get taller, so I tried to get younger but I couldn’t get younger. But I could grow a mustache and I did it.”
Harris has also been criticized by senior members of the government in Seoul for suggesting that the country should consult Washington to reopen tourism with North Korea.
He suggested that it would be best for South Korea to manage any plans to engage with North Korea through a joint working group set up with the United States to avoid “misunderstandings” that could trigger sanctions.
However, a Seoul official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “It is very inappropriate for the ambassador to make such a mention in the media about the comments of the host nation’s president.”
A spokesman for the South Unification ministry, which manages relations with the North, declined to comment specifically on Harris’ remarks, but said that “our policy towards North Korea is within our sovereignty.”