|General background: Malaysia was formed in
1963 through a merging of the former British colonies
of Malaya and Singapore, including the East Malaysian
states of Sabah and Sarawak on the northern coast of
Borneo. The first several years of the country's history
were marred by Indonesian efforts to control Malaysia,
Philippine claims to Sabah, and Singapore's secession
Area comparative: Slightly
larger than New Mexico.
Climate: Tropical; annual southwest (April to October)
and northeast (October to February) monsoons
Terrain: Coastal plains rising to hills and mountains.
Population: 22,662,365 (July 2002 est.)
Ethnic groups: Malay and other indigenous
58%, Chinese 24%, Indian 8%, others 10% (2000)
Religions: Muslim, Buddhist, Daoist, Hindu,
Christian, Sikh; note - in addition, Shamanism is
practiced in East Malaysia
Language: Bahasa Melayu (official), English,
Chinese dialects (Cantonese, Mandarin, Hokkien, Hakka,
Hainan, Foochow), Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Panjabi,
Thai; note - in addition, in East Malaysia several
indigenous languages are spoken, the largest of which
are Iban and Kadazan.
Government type: Constitutional monarchy
Capital: Kuala Lumpur
Legal system: Based on English common law;
judicial review of legislative acts in the Supreme
Court at request of supreme head of the federation;
has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction.
Economic overview: Malaysia, a middle income
country, transformed itself from 1971 through the
late 1990s from a producer of raw materials into an
emerging multi-sector economy. Growth is almost exclusively
driven by exports - particularly of electronics -
and, as a result Malaysia was hard hit by the global
economic downturn and the slump in the Information
Technology (IT) sector in 2001. GDP in 2001 grew only
0.3% due to an estimated 11% contraction in exports,
but a substantial fiscal stimulus package has mitigated
the worst of the recession and the economy is expected
to grow by 2% to 3% in 2002 as the world economy rebounds.
Kuala Lumpur's healthy foreign exchange reserves and
relatively small external debt make it unlikely that
Malaysia will experience a crisis similar to the crisis
of 1997, but the economy remains vulnerable to a more
protracted downturn in the US and Japan, top export
destinations and key sources of foreign investment.
Communication/Telephone system: Modern system;
international service excellent.
Places of interest: Lovely peninsula.
Travel tips: Visitors are advised to be extra
vigilant when traveling in eastern Sabah and to altogether
avoid the islands off of Sabah's east coast, including
Sipadan and Pandanan. Be cautious everywhere in Malaysia.