The Koch-funded Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft recently published a racially charged critique of a retired American admiral that mirrors attacks levied against him by Chinese propaganda outlets.
Nation correspondent Timothy Shorrock last month argued in a piece published by the Quincy Institute that Harry Harris, the former head of U.S. Pacific Command now serving as the American ambassador to South Korea, is overly sympathetic to Japan in its disputes with South Korea. Harris's views, he argued, may stem from the fact that he was "born in Japan, the son of a Japanese mother and a U.S. Navy officer who served in Japan and Korea after World War II."
Chinese propaganda outlets have made Harris's Japanese ancestry the focus of their criticism of U.S. policy in the Pacific. During his tenure as the head of U.S. Pacific Command, Xinhua News Agency, a state propaganda outlet, repeatedly pointed to his ethnicity to explain away U.S. policy positions, citing his "Japanese ancestry" and alluding to his alleged ties with Japan's security and political establishment.
"Some may say an overemphasis on the Japanese background of an American general is a bit unkind," read one 2016 report. "But to understand the United States' increasingly aggressive position in the South China Sea, it is simply impossible to ignore Admiral Harris's blood, background, political inclination, and values."
Harris, who did not respond to a request for comment, had previously condemned China for attacking his heritage, calling the talking point "really ugly."
The publication of Shorrock's article is the latest controversy surrounding the think tank since its launch in December. Supported by both Charles Koch and George Soros, the Quincy Institute advocates for a more restrained U.S. foreign policy. In his piece, Shorrock criticized Harris for pressing South Korea to reenter an intelligence-sharing agreement with Japan that Seoul had left to protest Tokyo over a historical dispute. The writer said Harris's Japanese ancestry may explain his "more benign approach to Japan's role in Korea."
The State Department strongly defended the ambassador, telling the Free Beacon "there is absolutely no credence to the assertion that Ambassador Harris’s loyalties lie anywhere but with the United States."
"He has spent his entire life dedicated to advancing U.S. peace and prosperity throughout the world, and his tenure as U.S. ambassador to the ROK has been marked by constant effort to strengthen this critical bilateral alliance," said a spokesman for the agency. "There is no one we would rather have as our ambassador to the ROK at this critical time."
Michael Mazza, a visiting fellow at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, said that the ambassador was acting in the U.S. interest to pressure South Korea to preserve the intelligence-sharing agreement.
"It's important for all three countries' efforts to monitor North Korean activities in particular," Mazza said, referring to South Korea, Japan, and the United States. "It's important for making our missile defense capabilities operate more efficiently. And Harris was certainly advancing U.S. interests and the Trump administration's policy priorities."
The Quincy Institute did not respond to a request for comment.
Born on a U.S. military base in Japan in 1956 to an American sailor and a Japanese mother, Harris grew up in Tennessee and spent four decades in the Navy. He is an outspoken opponent of Chinese expansionism, asserting that the United States is ready to confront China's "provocative and expansionist" activities in the South China Sea if the need arises.
Chinese news outlets have frequently criticized Harris for what they describe as a bias toward the Japanese. One 2018 headline, for example, declared that Harris is a "U.S. admiral with Japanese ancestry who has made the Pacific Ocean unsafe." A 2017 piece asserted without evidence that he had "built an intimate relationship with the Japanese military and political circles."
"His Japanese origins are consistent with his unfriendly attitude toward China, which has been reflected in Harris's speeches on the South China Sea and actions of the Pacific Fleet since he assumed office," a 2016 People's Daily article said.
Shorrock denied that his argument was racially charged and told the Washington Free Beacon that his own world views were shaped by his childhood in Japan.
"Like Harris, my own views of Japan and Korea were shaped by my heritage growing up in Tokyo as a child of missionary parents and having a Japanese stepmother," he said. "Harris has shown in his many public statements, particularly in his criticism of South Korea's withdrawal from this intelligence-sharing agreement, that he views Japan and its past role in a much more positive light than most Korean citizens."
Harris sharply condemned China for the accusations in 2016 as an attempt to tarnish both him and U.S. Pacific Command. "When I am described as a Japanese admiral it's not true. I am not sure why they have to have an adjective in front of admiral," he said.
"In some respects, they try to demonize me, and that's really ugly," he told the New York Times in 2016. "I think in a lot of ways the communications that come out of the Chinese public affairs organ, they are tone-deaf and insulting."