Nilanthi Samaranayake
Research Program Director


Nilanthi Samaranayake directs the Strategy and Policy Analysis Program. She has led several studies at CNA on Indian Ocean and South Asia security. Recently Samaranayake has worked on U.S.-India naval cooperation, water resource competition in the Brahmaputra River basin, and Sri Lankan foreign policy. She also has conducted research on the navies of Bangladesh and Pakistan, the Maldives Coast Guard, security threats in the Bay of Bengal, and relations between smaller South Asian countries and China, India and the United States.

Prior to joining CNA, Samaranayake completed a fellowship at the National Bureau of Asian Research, where she investigated Sri Lanka's deepening ties with China. Her findings were published in the journal Asian Security. She also analyzed public opinion for a decade at the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C.Samaranayake holds an M.Sc. in International Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science.


April 10, 2019

Nilanthi Samaranayake writes, "As it works more closely with the smaller South Asian countries, the United States will need to take a nuanced approach toward China's expanding role in the region and should not necessarily view Chinese investments and loans as a direct threat to US influence."

United States Institute of Peace: "China's Engagement with Smaller South Asian Countries"

January 1, 2019

Nilanthi Samaranayake writes, “Sri Lanka, at present, is rebounding from an unprecedented political crisis. The episode, in part, brought into focus the country’s debt crisis. While Colombo has never defaulted on loan, it owes billions of dollars to foreign lenders that are coming soon by 2023.”

Observer Research Foundation: “Hambantota: Critical Node in the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor?”

December 29, 2018

Nilanthi Samaranayake says, “The U.S. logistics hub concept makes sense in Sri Lanka due to geography.”

Nikkei Asian Review: “China and U.S. Play the Great Game in South Asia”

November 9, 2018

Nilanthi Samaranayake says, “It's hard to imagine President Sirisena did not foresee the international reaction to his decision. The international community is now watching and waiting to see what will happen next, especially when parliament reconvenes.”

Nikkei Asian Review: “Sri Lanka's Crisis Deepens as Parliamentary Speaker Cries ‘Coup’”

October 29, 2018

Nilanthi Samaranayake says that the presence of two centers of power in Colombo meant policies would not be “as streamlined as they could be, especially on clear messaging to India.”

South China Morning Post: “What Rajapaksa’s Return Means for China-India Tug of War Over Sri Lanka”

October 2, 2018

"When China looks at South Asia it sees opportunity in countries such as Sri Lanka or Bangladesh, which may be a 'connectivity bandwagon' for international trade – from transshipping automobiles to bunkering fuel for tankers and cargo carriers, Nilanthi Samaranayake, an analyst at CNA on China and Indo-Pacific Security, said at the event."

USNI News: “Panel: Chinese Investments to Boost Trade Come as U.S. Commercial Shipping in Decline”