Fast Facts

Population:
26,121,000
Capital:
Kuala Lumpur; 1,352,000
Area:
329,847 square kilometers (127,355 square miles)
Language:
Bahasa Melayu, English, Chinese dialects, other regional dialects and indigenous languages
Religion:
Muslim, Buddhist, Daoist, Hindu, Christian, Sikh, Shamanist
Currency:
Ringgit
Life Expectancy:
73
GDP per Capita:
U.S. $8,800
Literacy Percent:
89
Flag: Malaysia
Map: Malaysia

Comprising the territories of Malaya, Sarawak, and Sabah, Malaysia stretches from peninsular Malaysia to northeastern Borneo in Southeast Asia. Central mountains divide peninsular Malaysia (Malaya), separating the narrow eastern coast from the fertile western plains, with its sheltered beaches and bays. Sarawak and Sabah share the island of Borneo with Indonesia and Brunei, where swamps rise to jungle-covered mountains. Malays make up half the population, and almost all Malays are Muslims. Ethnic Chinese constitute a quarter of Malaysia's people, and Indians some 7 percent—both groups are concentrated on the peninsula's west coast.

In the mid-19th century the United Kingdom began importing Chinese to work the tin mines of Muslim sultanates on the Malay Peninsula; by the turn of the century new rubber plantations employed transported Indian laborers. In 1957 the Federation of Malaya gained independence from Britain. Six years later the colonies of Sarawak and Sabah, on the island of Borneo, and Singapore joined Malaya to form the Federation of Malaysia; Singapore withdrew in 1965. Malaysia is one of the world's largest exporters of semiconductors, electrical goods, and appliances. After a long period of economic growth, Malaysia—like many countries—was hit hard by the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s. Kuala Lumpur, the nation's capital, anchors the new Multimedia Super Corridor, Asia's equivalent of the U.S.'s Silicon Valley. The government, a federal democracy with a ceremonial king, has ambitious plans to make Malaysia a leading producer and developer of high-tech products, including software.

ECONOMY

  • Industry: Rubber and oil palm processing and manufacturing, light manufacturing industry, logging, petroleum production and refining
  • Agriculture: Rubber, palm oil, cacao, rice
  • Exports: Electronic equipment, petroleum and liquefied natural gas, wood and wood products, palm oil

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