Malaysia country profile
Malaysia boasts one of south-east Asia’s most vibrant economies, the fruit of decades of industrial growth and political stability.
Its multi-ethnic, multi-religious society encompasses a majority Muslim population in most of its states and an economically-powerful Chinese community.
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Consisting of two regions separated by some 640 miles of the South China Sea, Malaysia is a federation of 13 states and three federal territories.
It is one of the region’s key tourist destinations, offering excellent beaches and brilliant scenery. Dense rainforests in the eastern states of Sarawak and Sabah, on the island of Borneo, are a refuge for wildlife and tribal traditions.
Malaysia made the transformation from a farm-based economy
Ethnic Malays comprise some 60% of the population. Chinese constitute around 26%; Indians and indigenous peoples make up the rest. The communities coexist in relative harmony, although there is little racial interaction – and the overturning of a ban on the use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims in December 2009 highlighted the religious divide in the country.
Although since 1971 Malays have benefited from positive discrimination in business, education and the civil service, ethnic Chinese continue to hold economic power and are the wealthiest community. The Malays remain the dominant group in politics while the Indians are among the poorest.
The country is among the world’s biggest producers of computer disk drives, palm oil, rubber and timber. It has a state-controlled car maker, Proton, and tourism has considerable room for expansion.
Malaysia’s economic prospects have been dented by the global economic downturn, which has hit export markets hard. In March 2009 the government unveiled a $16bn economic stimulus plan as it sought to stave off a deep recession.
also faces other serious challenges – politically, in the form of sustaining stability in the face of religious differences and the ethnic wealth gap, and, environmentally, in preserving its valuable forests.
Malaysia’s human rights record has come in for international criticism. Internal security laws allow suspects to be detained without charge or trial.
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Full name: Federation of Malaysia
Population: 27.5 million (UN, 2009)
Capital: Kuala Lumpur
Area: 329,847 sq km (127,355 sq miles)
Major languages: Malay (official), English, Chinese dialects, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam
Major religions: Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Christianity, Sikhism
Life expectancy: 72 years (men), 77 years (women)
Monetary unit: 1 ringgit = 100 sen
Main exports: Electronic equipment, petroleum and liquefied natural gas, chemicals, palm oil, wood and wood products, rubber, textiles
GNI per capita: US $6,970 (World Bank, 2008)
Internet domain: .my
International dialling code: +60