Area: 329,748 sq. km. (127,315 sq. mi.);
slightly larger than New Mexico.
cities--Penang, Ipoh, Malacca, Johor Baru,
Shah Alam, Klang, Kuching, Kota Kinabalu, Kota
Baru, Kuala Terengganu, Miri, Petaling Jaya.
Terrain: Coastal plains and interior,
jungle-covered mountains. The South China Sea
separates peninsular Malaysia from East Malaysia
Population (2008): 27.5 million.
Annual growth rate: 2.0%.
Ethnic groups: Malay 53.3%, Chinese 26.0%,
indigenous 11.8%, Indian 7.7%, others 1.2%.
Religions: Islam (60.4%), Buddhism (19.2%),
Christianity (9.1%), Hinduism (6.3%), other/none
Languages: Bahasa Melayu (official), Chinese
(various dialects), English, Tamil, indigenous.
(primary), 60.0% (secondary). Literacy--93.5%.
mortality rate (2007)--6.7/1,000. Life
76.4 yrs., male 71.9 yrs.
Work force (10.89 million, 2007): Services--57%; industry--28% (manufacturing--19%, mining
and construction--9%); agriculture--15%.
Type: Federal parliamentary democracy with a
Independence: August 31, 1957. (Malaya, which is
now peninsular Malaysia, became independent in
1957. In 1963 Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak, and
Singapore formed Malaysia. Singapore became an
independent country in 1965.)
Subdivisions: 13 states and three federal
territories (Kuala Lumpur, Labuan Island,
Putrajaya federal administrative territory).
Each state has an assembly and government headed
by a chief minister. Nine of these states have
hereditary rulers, generally titled "sultans,"
while the remaining four have appointed
governors in counterpart positions.
di-Pertuan Agong (head of state and customarily
referred to as the king; has ceremonial duties),
prime minister (head of government), cabinet. Legislative--bicameral
parliament, comprising 70-member Senate (26
elected by the 13 state assemblies, 44 appointed
by the king on the prime minister's
recommendation) and 222-member House of
Representatives (elected from single-member
Court, Court of Appeals, high courts, session's
courts, magistrate's courts, and juvenile
courts. Sharia courts hear cases on certain
matters involving Muslims only.
Political parties: Barisan Nasional (National
Front)--a coalition comprising the United Malays
National Organization (UMNO) and 13 other
parties, most of which are ethnically based;
Democratic Action Party (DAP); Parti Islam se
Malaysia (PAS); Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR).
There are more than 30 registered political
parties, including the foregoing, not all of
which are represented in the federal parliament.
Suffrage: Universal adult (voting age 21).
Nominal GDP: $154.3 billion.
Annual real GDP growth rate: 5.9% (2006); 6.3%
Per capita (GDP) income: $5,610.
Natural resources: petroleum, liquefied natural
gas (LNG), tin, minerals.
Agricultural products: palm oil, rubber, timber,
cocoa, rice, tropical fruit, fish, coconut.
electrical products, chemicals, food and
beverages, metal and machine products, apparel.
Trade: Merchandise exports--$185.0
billion: electronic products, manufactured
goods, petroleum, palm oil, liquid natural gas,
apparel, timber, rubber. Major
markets--U.S. 15.6%, Singapore 14.6%, Japan
9.1%, China 8.8%. Merchandise imports--$154.0
billion: electronic products, machinery,
chemicals, manufactured goods, petroleum
suppliers--Japan 13.0%, China 12.9%,
Singapore 11.5%, U.S. 10.8%.
Malaysia's multi-racial society contains
many ethnic groups. Malays comprise a majority
of just over 50%. By constitutional definition,
all Malays are Muslim. About a quarter of the
population is ethnic Chinese, a group which
historically played an important role in trade
and business. Malaysians of Indian descent
comprise about 7% of the population and include
Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and Christians.
Non-Malay indigenous groups combine to make up
approximately 11% of the population.
Population density is highest in peninsular
Malaysia, home to some 20 million of the
country's 27 million inhabitants. The remaining
7 million live on the Malaysian portion of the
island of Borneo in the large but less
densely-populated states of Sabah and Sarawak.
More than half of Sarawak's residents and about
two-thirds of Sabah's are from indigenous
The early Buddhist Malay kingdom of
Srivijaya, based at what is now Palembang,
Sumatra, dominated much of the Malay peninsula
from the 9th to the 13th centuries AD. The
powerful Hindu kingdom of Majapahit, based on
Java, gained control of the Malay peninsula in
the 14th century. Conversion of the Malays to
Islam, beginning in the early 14th century,
accelerated with the rise of the state of
Malacca under the rule of a Muslim prince in the
15th century. Malacca was a major regional
commercial center, where Chinese, Arab, Malay,
and Indian merchants traded precious goods.
Drawn by this rich trade, a Portuguese fleet
conquered Malacca in 1511, marking the beginning
of European expansion in Southeast Asia. The
Dutch ousted the Portuguese from Malacca in
1641. The British obtained the island of Penang
in 1786 and temporarily controlled Malacca with
Dutch acquiescence from 1795 to 1818 to prevent
it from falling to the French during the
Napoleonic war. The British gained lasting
possession of Malacca from the Dutch in 1824,
through the Anglo-Dutch treaty, in exchange for
territory on the island of Sumatra in what is
In 1826, the British settlements of Malacca,
Penang, and Singapore were combined to form the
Colony of the Straits Settlements. From these
strongholds, in the 19th and early 20th
centuries the British established protectorates
over the Malay sultanates on the peninsula.
During their rule the British developed
large-scale rubber and tin production and
established a system of public administration.
British control was interrupted by World War II
and the Japanese occupation from 1941 to 1945.
Popular sentiment for independence swelled
during and after the war. The territories of
peninsular Malaysia joined together to form the
Federation of Malaya in 1948 and eventually
negotiated independence from the British in
1957. Tunku Abdul Rahman became the first prime
minister. In 1963 the British colonies of
Singapore, Sarawak, and Sabah joined the
Federation, which was renamed Malaysia.
Singapore's membership was short-lived, however;
it left in 1965 and became an independent
Neighboring Indonesia objected to the formation
of Malaysia and began a program of economic,
political, diplomatic, and military
"confrontation" against the new country in 1963,
which ended only after the fall of Indonesia's
President Sukarno in 1966. Internally, local
communists, nearly all Chinese, carried out a
long, bitter insurgency both before and after
independence, prompting the imposition of a
state of emergency from 1948 to 1960. Small
bands of guerrillas remained in bases along the
rugged border with southern Thailand,
occasionally entering northern Malaysia. These
guerrillas finally signed a peace accord with
the Malaysian Government in December 1989. A
separate, small-scale communist insurgency that
began in the mid-1960s in Sarawak also ended
with the signing of a peace accord in October
Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy,
nominally headed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong,
customarily referred to as the king. Kings are
elected for 5-year terms from among the nine
sultans of the peninsular Malaysian states. The
king also is the leader of the Islamic faith in
Executive power is vested in the cabinet led by
the prime minister; the Malaysian constitution
stipulates that the prime minister must be a
member of the lower house of parliament who, in
the opinion of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong,
commands a majority in parliament. The cabinet
is chosen from among members of both houses of
parliament and is responsible to that body.
The bicameral parliament consists of the Senate
(Dewan Negara) and the House of Representatives
(Dewan Rakyat). All 70 Senate members sit for
3-year terms, which are normally extended for an
additional 3 years; 26 are elected by the 13
state assemblies, and 44 are appointed by the
king following the prime minister's
recommendation. Representatives of the House are
elected from single-member districts by
universal adult suffrage. The 222 members of the
House of Representatives are elected to
parliamentary terms lasting up to 5 years.
Legislative power is divided between federal and
The Malaysian legal system is based on English
common law. The Federal Court reviews decisions
referred from the Court of Appeal; it has
original jurisdiction in constitutional matters
and in disputes between states or between the
federal government and a state. Peninsular
Malaysia and the East Malaysian states of Sabah
and Sarawak each have a high court.
The federal government has authority over
external affairs, defense, internal security,
justice (except civil law cases among Malays or
other Muslims and other indigenous peoples,
adjudicated under Islamic and traditional law),
federal citizenship, finance, commerce,
industry, communications, transportation, and
Principal Government Officials
Prime Minister--Datuk Seri Utama Abdullah bin
Foreign Minister--Datuk Seri Utama Dr. Rais
Ambassador to the U.S.--vacant
Ambassador to the UN--Datuk Hamidon bin Ali
Malaysia maintains an embassy in
the U.S. at 3516 International Court NW,
Washington, DC 20008, tel. (202) 572-9700; a
Consulate General at 550 South Hope Street,
Suite 400, Los Angeles, CA 90071, tel. (213)
892-1238; and a Consulate General at 313 East
43rd Street, New York City, NY 10017, tel. (212)
Malaysia's predominant political party, the
United Malays National Organization (UMNO), has
held power in coalition with other parties
continuously since independence in 1957. The
UMNO coalition's share of the vote declined in
national elections held in May 1969, after which
riots broke out in Kuala Lumpur and elsewhere,
mainly between Malays and ethnic Chinese.
Several hundred people were killed or injured.
The government declared a state of emergency and
suspended all parliamentary activities.
In the years that followed, Malaysia undertook
several initiatives that became integral parts
of its socioeconomic model. The New Economic
Policy (NEP), launched in 1971, contained a
series of affirmative action policies designed
to benefit Malays and certain indigenous groups
(together known as bumiputera or "sons of the
soil"). The Constitution was amended to limit
dissent against the specially-protected and
sensitive portions of the Constitution
pertaining to the social contract. The
government identified intercommunal harmony as
one of its official goals. The previous alliance
of communally based parties was replaced with a
broader coalition--the Barisan Nasional (BN) or
National Front. The BN won large majorities in
the 1974 federal and state elections.
Dr. Mahathir Mohamad was Prime Minister between
1981 and 2003, leading UMNO and BN to successive
election victories. Mahathir emphasized economic
development during his tenure, in particular the
export sector, as well as large scale
infrastructure projects. Mahathir attributed the
success of the Asian tiger economies to the
"Asian values" of its people, which he believed
were superior to those of the West. Mahathir
sharply criticized the International Monetary
Fund (IMF), international financiers such as
George Soros, and Western governments during the
sharp economic and financial crisis that
affected Asia in 1997-8, and denied that the
downturn was due to the failures of corruption
and "crony capitalism."
The end of Mahathir's tenure was marred by a
falling out with his deputy and presumed
successor, Anwar Ibrahim. In September 1998,
Mahathir dismissed Anwar and accused him of
immoral and corrupt conduct. Although Anwar was
convicted on both charges in 1999 and 2000, the
trials were viewed as seriously flawed.
Malaysia's Federal Court eventually freed Anwar
after overturning his immoral conduct conviction
in September 2004.
Mahathir stepped down as prime minister in
October 2003 after 22 years in power, and his
successor, Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad
Badawi, was sworn into office. Abdullah called
elections and won an overwhelming victory in
March 2004. Since taking office, Abdullah, an
Islamic scholar, has promoted the concept of
"Islam Hadhari" or "civilizational Islam,"
emphasizing the importance of education, social
harmony, and economic progress. His relationship
with Mahathir eventually soured, and the former
prime minister now expresses regret at
supporting Abdullah to be his successor.
Malaysia held national elections in March 2008.
UMNO and its coalition allies, together known as
the Barisan Nasional or National Front, won a
simple majority of the seats in the national
parliament but for only the second time in
history failed to gain the two-thirds majority
necessary to amend the constitution. A loose
coalition of opposition parties, called the
Pakatan Rakyat or Peoples Alliance, led by Anwar
Ibrahim, won 82 of 222 seats in parliament and
took control of the state-level assemblies in
five of Malaysia's thirteen states.
Since it became independent, Malaysia's
economic record has been one of Asia's best.
Real gross domestic product (GDP) grew by an
average of 6.5% per year from 1957 to 2005.
Performance peaked in the early 1980s through
the mid-1990s, as the economy experienced
sustained rapid growth averaging almost 8%
annually. High levels of foreign and domestic
investment played a significant role as the
economy diversified and modernized. Once heavily
dependent on primary products such as rubber and
tin, Malaysia today is a middle-income country
with a multi-sector economy based on services
and manufacturing. Malaysia is one of the
world's largest exporters of semiconductor
devices, electrical goods, and information and
communication technology (ICT) products.
The government has taken an active role in
guiding the nation's economic development.
Malaysia's New Economic Policy (NEP), first
established in 1971, sought to eradicate poverty
and to enhance the economic standing of ethnic
Malays and other indigenous peoples
(collectively known as "bumiputeras"). One NEP
goal was to expand the share of corporate equity
owned by ethnic Malays. In June 1991, after the
NEP expired, the government unveiled its
National Development Policy, which contained
many of the NEP's goals. In April 2001, the
government released a new plan, the "National
Vision Policy," to guide development over the
period 2001-2010. The National Vision Policy
targets education for budget increases and seeks
to refocus the economy toward higher-technology
production. The stated goal is for Malaysia to
be a fully developed economy by 2020.
The Malaysian economy went into sharp recession
in 1997-1998 during the Asian financial crisis,
which affected countries throughout the region,
including South Korea, Indonesia, and Thailand.
Malaysia's GDP contracted by more than 7% in
1998. Malaysia narrowly avoided a return to
recession in 2001 when its economy was
negatively impacted by the bursting of the
dot-com bubble (which hurt the ICT sector) and
slow growth or recession in many of its
important export markets.
In July 2005, the government removed the 7-year
old peg linking the ringgit's value to the U.S.
dollar at an exchange rate of RM 3.8/U.S. $1.0.
The dollar peg was replaced by a managed float
against an undisclosed basket of currencies. The
new exchange rate policy was designed to keep
the ringgit more broadly stable and to avoid
uncertain currency swings which could harm
Regional cooperation is a cornerstone of
Malaysia's foreign policy. It was a founding
member of the Association of Southeast Asian
Nations (ASEAN) and served as the group's chair
most recently in 2005-2006. It hosted the ASEAN
Summit and East Asia Summit in December 2005, as
well as the ASEAN Ministerial and the ASEAN
Regional Forum in July 2006.
Malaysia is an active member of the Asia Pacific
Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, the
Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC),
the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), and the United
Nations. It was chair of the OIC until March
2008 and has also chaired the NAM.
Malaysia is a frequent contributor to UN and
other peacekeeping and stabilization missions,
including recent deployments to Lebanon,
Timor-Leste, Philippines, Indonesia, Pakistan,
Sierra Leone, and Kosovo.
The United States and Malaysia share a
diverse and expanding partnership. Economic ties
are robust. The United States is Malaysia's
largest trading partner and Malaysia is the
sixteenth-largest trading partner of the U.S.
Annual two-way trade amounts to $44 billion. The
United States and Malaysia launched negotiations
for a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) in
The United States is the largest foreign
investor in Malaysia on a cumulative basis.
American companies are particularly active in
the energy, electronics, and manufacturing
sectors. The U.S. direct investment position in
Malaysia for 2006 was $12.45 billion.
The United States and Malaysia cooperate closely
on security matters, including
counter-terrorism, maritime domain awareness,
and regional stability. The relationship between
the U.S. and Malaysian militaries is also strong
with numerous exchanges, training, joint
exercises, and visits. The U.S. and Malaysia
signed a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT)
in July 2006 during the visit to Kuala Lumpur by
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Deputy Chief of Mission--David B. Shear
Political Counselor--Mark D. Clark
Economic Counselor--Matt J. Matthews
Commercial Counselor--Joseph B. Kaesshaefer
Public Affairs Officer--Phillip Hoffmann
Agricultural Attache--David W. Cottrell
Consul--Andrew T. Miller
Malaysia is located at 376 Jalan Tun Razak,
50400 Kuala Lumpur (tel. 60-3-2168-5000, fax