Chapter 7: Malaysia
Malaysia is one of the major multi-ethnic countries of Southeast Asia. It is a resource-rich, open economy with a population of 29 million. About 60 per cent of its people are Malay Muslims. The remaining 40 per cent are mainly Chinese (predominantly Confucian or Buddhist) and Indian-Tamils (predominantly Hindu) whose ancestors were brought to Malaysia by the British as plantation workers. Malaysia’s geographical size is such as to confer it with low population density, especially in non-peninsular Malaysia, which is forested and endowed with other natural resource endowments including oil and gas. Contemporary Malaysian economic and political history dates from its acquisition of political independence from Britain in 1957. At that time, Malaysia was an agricultural economy and a major exporter of some primary commodities, namely rubber and palm oil. The population was overwhelmingly rural and desperately poor. Malaysia has made impressive economic progress and is on the way to becoming a developed country by the end of the current decade. This remarkable economic transformation, achieved partly through post-1997 improvements in the quality of its macroeconomic management, has drawn considerable interest from policymakers and development economists across the globe. One major criticism against Malaysia’s economic transformation is that it was not associated with the establishment of a liberal democratic system to back a market economy.
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