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Country, Southeast Asia. It is composed of two regionsPeninsular, or West, Malaysia and East Malaysiaseparated by 400 mi (640 km) of the South China Sea. West Malaysia occupies the southern half of the Malay Peninsula (Malaya) and is bordered to the north by Thailand. East Malaysia lies on the northwestern part of the island of Borneo and consists of the states of Sarawak and Sabah. Area: 127,366 sq mi (329,876 sq km). Population: (2009 est.) 27,468,000. Capital: Kuala Lumpur; administrative centre: Putrajaya. Because of Malaysia's location on the heavily traveled Strait of Malacca, the population is a highly diverse mix, in which ethnic Malays and Chinese form the largest groups, and the most prominent of the smaller ethnic groups include the various indigenous peoples and South Asians. Languages: Malay (official), Chinese, and assorted Austronesian and Indo-European languages. Religions: Islam (official), Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, some local religions. Currency: ringgit. Peninsular Malaysia is largely mountainous; East Malaysia has coastal plains rising to hills and then to a mountainous core. Much of Malaysia is covered by rainforest. Tree crops, notably rubber and palm oil, are the most important cash crops; rice is the chief staple crop. Petroleum drilling and production and tin mining are important, as is the manufacture of electronic products, rubber goods, cement, and iron and steel products. Malaysia is a federal constitutional monarchy with two legislative houses; the head of state is the paramount ruler, and the head of government is the prime minister. Peninsular Malaysia has been inhabited for at least 6,000 years. Small kingdoms existed in the 2nd–3rd century CE when adventurers from India first arrived. Sumatran exiles founded the city-state of Malacca c. 1400, and it flourished as a trading and Islamic religious centre until its capture by the Portuguese in 1511. Malacca passed to the Dutch in 1641. The British founded a settlement on Singapore Island in 1819, and by 1867 they had established the Straits Settlements, including Malacca, Singapore, and Penang. During the late 19th century, Chinese began to migrate to Peninsular Malaysia (at the time called Malaya). Japan invaded Malaya in 1941 and captured Singapore in 1942. After Japan's defeat in 1945, opposition to British rule led to the creation of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) in 1946, and in 1948 the peninsula was federated with Penang. Malaya gained independence from Britain in 1957. Malaya, Singapore, and the former British colonies of Sarawak and Sabah on the island of Borneo joined to form the Federation of Malaysia in 1963; Singapore, however, withdrew from the federation in 1965. Malaysia's economy expanded greatly from the late 1970s, though it experienced the regional economic slump of the mid- to late 1990s; the economy subsequently recovered.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on Malaysia, visit Britannica.com.