PHYSICAL ECOLOGY OF MALAYSIA AND SINGAPORE: GEOSTRATEGIC LOCATION, MULTI-ETHNIC, AND MULTI-RELIGIOUS
by A. Joseph Lynch
The map above depicts the southeastern Asian nation of Malaysia along with the tiny nation at the southern tip of the Malay peninsula: Singapore.
Sunni Islam came to the region during the 14th century and formed the first independent peninsular state called the Malacca Sultanate. Beginning in the early 16th century the region was dominated by Portuguese and later British imperial rule.
Although most attention is given to Malaysia's peninsular portion (where its capital, Kuala Lumpur, is located), approximately 61% of Malaysia is located on the northern edge of the island of Borneo (which itself is host to two other nations: Brunei and Indonesia). In 1963, both portions of the nation voted to forge the Federation of Malaysia and have since been one nation split between the South China Sea.
The island nation of Singapore was considered the "Gibraltar of the East" by the British Empire due to its strategic location at the eastern entrance of the Straits of Malacca. Still geopolitically important today, 25% of today's oil - along with countless other goods - passes through this narrow maritime choke point (see this Map on Monday article for more, along with another map). The Japanese capture of the area in the opening months of its entry into World War II was called the "worst disaster" and "largest capitulation" in British military history by Winston Churchill.
In the early 1960's, Malaysia and Singapore nearly forged one nation fully uniting the lower Malay Peninsula with the Malaysian Borneo coast. Racial tensions and political unrest, however, led to Singapore's expulsion from Malaysia and its formation as an independent nation. Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's first prime minister and founding father who died last month, had desperately sought to keep Singapore within Malaysia. Singapore today has become an economically and culturally vibrant nation, hard at work and well-balanced ethnically and religiously. While trained by Israelis in the self-defense of a small nation, it has succeeded in establishing a nation where Muslims, Christians, and Buddhists thrive side-by-side.
Situated between a rising China, India, and Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore are bound to be important regional players in the decades ahead.
This article was originally posted on April 4, 2015.
August 10, 2015 UPDATE: Stratfor - short for Strategic Forecasting, Inc. - has created a new video explaining Malaysia's Geographic Challenges. This video is part of an excellent series of short (~2-4 minute) videos which provide the viewer with a specific nation, along with its basic history, geography, culture, and geopolitical allies and adversaries. To view, click on the video box below.