SEOUL, Jan. 17 (Korea Bizwire) — A ruling party heavyweight in South Korea strongly criticized U.S. Ambassador Harry Harris on Friday for his remarks on President Moon Jae-in’s push for inter-Korean cooperation.
“It’s good to express his personal view, but if South Korea follows whatever a foreign ambassador says, he or she would be like a ‘governor general’ of the Japanese colonial government of Korea,” Rep. Song Young-gil of the Democratic Party told a local radio program.
Korea was a colony of Japan from 1910 to 1945.
The four-term lawmaker, who serves as chairman of the party’s special committee on peace and cooperation in Northeast Asia, was responding to news reports of the envoy’s call for prior consultations between Seoul and Washington on Moon’s plans to attempt the resumption of joint ventures with North Korea, such as individual tourism to Mount Kumgang, that are not subject to U.N.-led sanctions on the communist neighbor.
Harris was quoted as telling a group of foreign reporters in Seoul on Thursday that it would be “better” for South Korea to run such an issue “through the working group.”
He was referring to a working-level consultation channel between the allies on North Korea affairs.
Song, who used to lead the Presidential Committee on Northern Economic Cooperation, then publicly accused Harris of making “rather reckless” comments that are not suitable for his ambassadorial job.
The lawmaker said he thinks Harris, a retired four-star admiral, is a little unfamiliar with diplomacy.
Many regarded the envoy’s remarks as thinly-veiled pressure on the Moon administration. They pointed out a string of controversial comments Harris has made in public so far in regard to sensitive alliance issues.
Moon’s aides, speaking privately to reporters, also expressed uneasiness about the U.S. ambassador’s attitude.
“We have no official comment (on his remarks). Personally, however, I feel deeply troubled,” a Cheong Wa Dae official said.
Cheong Wa Dae officials take a dim view of the envoy’s public remarks, which have repeatedly raised eyebrows, either on efforts for improved inter-Korean ties or such alliance issues as Seoul’s potential military role in the Strait of Hormuz and defense cost-sharing talks.
In an interview with the KBS broadcaster aired early this year, Harris said South Korea gets large amounts of energy from the Middle East: “So, I would hope that Korea will send forces out there.”
He also said it’s not the time yet to relax sanctions, speaking just days after Moon extended an olive branch to the North in his New Year address, in which the president again voiced hope for the re-linking of inter-Korean roads and railways.
Critics say Harris is effectively undermining Washington’s public diplomacy here with his “high-handed” ambassadorial image.