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U.S. Department of State Background Note

Malaysia

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Malaysia

PEOPLE

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 today Indonesia.

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 republic.

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 1990.

GOVERNMENT

Prime Minister--Datuk Seri Utama Abdullah bin Ahmad Badawi
Foreign Minister--Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar
Ambassador to the U.S.--Datin Paduka Rajmah Hussein
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) 490-2722/23.

POLITICAL CONDITIONS

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 exports.

FOREIGN RELATIONS

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 tenth-largest trading partner of the U.S. Annual two-way trade amounts to $49 billion. The United States and Malaysia launched negotiations for a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) in June 2006.

The United States is the largest foreign investor in Malaysia. American companies are particularly active in the energy, electronics, and manufacturing sectors. The cumulative value of U.S. private investment in Malaysia exceeds $10 billion.

The United States and Malaysia enjoy strong security cooperation. Malaysia hosts the Southeast Asia Regional Center for Counterterrorism (SEARCCT), where over 1,100 officials from multiple countries have received training. The United States is the largest foreign provider of training courses at the center. The U.S. and Malaysia share a strong military-to-military relationship with numerous exchanges, training, joint exercises, and visits.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Kuala Lumpur in July 2006.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador-- James R. Keith
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 Counselor--Jonathan P. Gressel
Consul--Andrew T. Miller

The U.S. Embassy in Malaysia is located at 376 Jalan Tun Razak, 50400 Kuala Lumpur (tel. 60-3-2168-5000, fax 60-3-2142-2207).

TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program advises Americans traveling and residing abroad through Consular Information Sheets, Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings. Consular Information Sheets exist for all countries and include information on entry and exit requirements, currency regulations, health conditions, safety and security, crime, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. embassies and consulates abroad. Public Announcements are issued to disseminate information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas that pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel to a certain country because the situation is dangerous or unstable.

For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet web site at http://www.travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution, Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings can be found. Consular Affairs Publications, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad, are also available at http://www.travel.state.gov. For additional information on international travel, see http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/Travel/International.shtml.

The Department of State encourages all U.S citizens traveling or residing abroad to register via the State Department's travel registration website or at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Registration will make your presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an emergency and will enable you to receive up-to-date information on security conditions.

Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or the regular toll line 1-202-501-4444 for callers outside the U.S. and Canada.

The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S. Department of State's single, centralized public contact center for U.S. passport information. Telephone: 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778). Customer service representatives and operators for TDD/TTY are available Monday-Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 12:00 midnight, Eastern Time, excluding federal holidays.

Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP (877-394-8747) and a web site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm give the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled "Health Information for International Travel" (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.

Further Electronic Information
Department of State Web Site. Available on the Internet at http://www.state.gov, the Department of State web site provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy information, including Background Notes and daily press briefings along with the directory of key officers of Foreign Service posts and more. The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) provides security information and regional news that impact U.S. companies working abroad through its website http://www.osac.gov

Export.gov provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market information offered by the federal government and provides trade leads, free export counseling, help with the export process, and more.

STAT-USA/Internet, a service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, provides authoritative economic, business, and international trade information from the Federal government. The site includes current and historical trade-related releases, international market research, trade opportunities, and country analysis and provides access to the National Trade Data Bank.

Revised: Oct. 2007

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