Beijing balloon: Sri Lankan lessons for Secretary Blinken – By Prof. Samitha Hettige

February, 6, 2023

Mercia Rubber Products, Colombo 02 was founded by the late Sam Wijesekera in 1910. During the British Raj on one occasion the Galle Face hotel had not allowed the late Muhammad Macan-Markar of Galle to enter the hotel as he was clad in a sarong. That day Mr. Macan-Markar had decided to build a building taller than the hotel & Sam had helped him to buy the land & build the iconic Galle Face Court. Sam had once been invited by the late Richard Peiris to start a rubber products business but Sam continued with Mercia. During 1948 Christmas Sri Lanka’s first ever latex balloons were launched by Mercia with the pictures of Snow White & the 7 dwarfs & the entire stock had been sold out in one day. The late Lionel & late Shirley Wijesekera took over Mercia from Sam which was later taken over by Shirley’s sons late Nuwan & Thushan. Mercia is now managed by Venura & Yasasvi (sons of Nuwan). Lionel & Shirley born in early 1930s were educated at St. Joeseph’s college, Maradana (Ref. Wijesekera family archives).

Ranasinghe Premadasa who had strong bonds with SJC also was from the same vintage. When he was the Prime Minister he had visited an African country & taken a balloon ride over a safari park with his family & two armed Sri Lankan body guards. During the ride the balloon had accidentally landed & the body guards have run for cover leaving the PM & family. Later when the PM met the guards, everyone had expected him to scold them. The seasoned leader had very calmly told them that they should have left a gun with him before running away instead of scolding them. When Premadasa became President his predecessor JR Jayawardena retired to his private residence at Ward place. In the early 1990s a weather balloon from SL meteorology department was taken by unexpected winds towards JR’s residence. When JR was informed of the balloon, he had told the guards to shoot it down if necessary without making a scene (Ref. Media).

Speaking of balloons, the latest is the Beijing balloon & US reactions. As per US media secretary Blinken had postponed his trip to China due to the so called Chinese spy balloon over USA. However, China has not mentioned about such a visit being planned. When a US Air Force plane unexpectedly violated Chinese air space in Hainan during the times of President Jiang Zemin, the Chinese reacted in a more matured way according to analysts. It will be good for world peace if super powers China & USA manage this type of situations in a "cool-headed & professional manner as China has suggested. Since the US has advanced technology to identify serious security threats creating unnecessary chaos for a small reason is not worth.

(Views expressed are personal).