A group of South Korean protesters angered by American demands for more defense spending expressed their anger on Friday by destroying portraits of U.S. Ambassador Harry Harris outside the U.S. embassy.
“Harris out! We are not a U.S. colony! We are not an ATM machine!” the protesters chanted as they smashed effigies of Harris created by attacking pictures of his face to blocks of tofu and acorn jelly. The unusual choice of protest tactics was made because police warned the demonstrators not to act more aggressively by staging a mock beheading of Harris, as they originally planned.
Across the street from the anti-U.S. demonstration, a group of pro-U.S. activists did much the same thing, except the effigies they destroyed were made in the likeness of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and South Korea President Moon Jae-in.
South Korean officials say U.S. President Donald Trump wants them to pay up to $5 billion more per year for defense, a large increase from the roughly $900 million per year South Korea contributes at present. More protests are planned as talks between American and South Korean officials resume in Seoul next week, after which the exact size of the U.S. request for additional funding will likely be officially confirmed.
South Korea’s Yonhap News reported the anti-U.S. protests were organized by a coalition of about 50 civic groups. The demonstrators accused the U.S. of squeezing South Korea for money while being “indifferent to peace on the Korean Peninsula” and cited polls showing up to 96 percent of the South Korean public is opposed to paying more for their defense.
Harris, a retired U.S. Navy admiral, is a focus of protester ire because he is conveniently located in Seoul, he has been a prominent figure in the U.S. request for additional funding, and he has been criticized for speaking rudely to South Korean officials. Among other incidents, Harris reportedly told South Korean officials who apologized for student protesters who trespassed on his residence in October: “You should be sorry. It is your responsibility.”
South Korea’s presidential Blue House is currently facing a petition demanding Harris be declared persona non grata and ejected from the country. North Korean propagandists eagerly jumped into the controversy, telling South Koreans on Friday that Harris’s brusque remarks have “exposed the overbearing attitude of the U.S. that sees South Korea as nothing more than a colony and South Korean authorities as their puppets.”