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Malaysia, country of Southeast Asia, lying just north of the Equator, that is composed of two noncontiguous regions: Peninsular Malaysia (Semenanjung Malaysia), also called West Malaysia (Malaysia Barat), which is on the Malay Peninsula, and East Malaysia (Malaysia Timur), which is on the island of Borneo. The Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, lies in the western part of the peninsula, about 25 miles (40 km) from the coast; the administrative centre, Putrajaya, is located about 16 miles (25 km) south of the capital.
Malaysia, a member of the Commonwealth, represents the political marriage of territories that were formerly under British rule. When it was established on September 16, 1963, Malaysia comprised the territories of Malaya (now Peninsular Malaysia), the island of Singapore, and the colonies of Sarawak and Sabah in northern Borneo. In August 1965 Singapore seceded from the federation and became an independent republic.
Peninsular Malaysia occupies most of the southern segment of the Malay Peninsula. To the north it is bordered by Thailand, with which it shares a land boundary of some 300 miles (480 km). To the south, at the tip of the peninsula, is the island republic of Singapore, with which Malaysia is connected by a causeway and also by a separate bridge. To the southwest, across the Strait of Malacca, is the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. East Malaysia consists of the country’s two largest states, Sarawak and Sabah, and is separated from Peninsular Malaysia by some 400 miles (640 km) of the South China Sea. These two states occupy roughly the northern fourth of the large island of Borneo and share a land boundary with the Indonesian portion (Kalimantan) of the island to the south. Surrounded by Sarawak is a small coastal enclave containing the sultanate of Brunei. Of the country’s total area, which includes about 265 square miles (690 square km) of inland water, Peninsular Malaysia constitutes about 40 percent and East Malaysia about 60 percent.
Both peninsular and insular Malaysia lie in the same tropical latitudes and are affected by similar airstreams. They have high temperatures and humidities, heavy rainfall, and a climatic year patterned around the northeast and southwest monsoons. The four seasons of the climatic year are the northeast monsoon (from November or December until March), the first intermonsoonal period (March to April or May), the southwest monsoon (May or June to September or early October), and the second intermonsoonal period (October to November). The onset and retreat of the two monsoons are not sharply defined.
Although Malaysia has an equatorial climate, the narrowness and topographic configuration of each portion—central mountainous cores with flat, flanking coastal plains—facilitate the inland penetration of maritime climatic influences. The monsoons further modify the climate. The northeast monsoon brings heavy rain and rough seas to the exposed coasts of southwestern Sarawak and northern and northeastern Sabah, and it sometimes causes flooding in the eastern part of the peninsula. The southwest monsoon affects mainly the southwestern coastal belt of Sabah, where flooding is common. Neither peninsular nor insular Malaysia is in the tropical cyclone (typhoon) belt, but their coasts occasionally are subject to the heavy rainstorms associated with squalls.
Temperatures are uniformly high throughout the year. On the peninsula, they average about 80 °F (27 °C) in most lowland areas. In coastal areas in East Malaysia, minimum temperatures range from the low to mid-70s F (about 23 °C), and maximum temperatures hover around 90 °F (32 °C); temperatures are lower in the interior highland regions. The mean annual rainfall on the peninsula is approximately 100 inches (2,540 mm); the driest location, Kuala Kelawang (in the district of Jelebu), near Kuala Lumpur, receives about 65 inches (1,650 mm) of rain per year, while the wettest, Maxwell’s Hill, northwest of Ipoh, receives some 200 inches (5,000 mm) annually. Mean annual precipitation in Sabah varies from about 80 to 140 inches (2,030 to 3,560 mm), while most parts of Sarawak receive 120 inches (3,050 mm) or more per year.
The people of Malaysia are unevenly distributed between Peninsular and East Malaysia, with the vast majority living in Peninsular Malaysia. The population shows great ethnic, linguistic, cultural, and religious diversity. Within this diversity, a significant distinction is made for administrative purposes between indigenous peoples (including Malays), collectively called bumiputra, and immigrant populations (primarily Chinese and South Asians), called non-bumiputra.
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