East Malaysia

East Malaysia
A black and white general world map with East Malaysia highlighted in green.
East Malaysia comprises the states of Sabah and Sarawak, and the Federal territory of Labuan.
A map of Borneo showing East Malaysia in orange. Major cities are indicated. Labuan is too small to be shown.

East Malaysia, also known as Malaysian Borneo,[1] is the part of Malaysia located on the island of Borneo. It consists of the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, and the Federal Territory of Labuan.[2] It lies to the east from Peninsular Malaysia (West Malaysia),[3] which is located on the Malay Peninsula. The two are separated by the South China Sea.[4] While East Malaysia is less populated and less developed than West Malaysia, its land mass is larger and it has notably more natural resources, chiefly oil and gas reserves.


Physical geography

A topographic map of Borneo with East Malaysia located on the northern portion of the island.

The landscape of East Malaysia is mostly lowland rain forests with areas of mountain rain forest towards the interior regions.

The total area of East Malaysia is 200,565 km2, representing approximately 61% of the total land area of Malaysia and 27% of the total area of Borneo.

East Malaysia contains the five highest mountains in Malaysia – the highest being Mount Kinabalu at 4,095 m, which is also the highest mountain in Borneo and the 10th highest mountain peak in Southeast Asia. It also contains the two longest rivers in Malaysia - Rajang River and Kinabatangan River.[5]

Banggi Island in Sabah and Betruit Island in Sarawak are the two largest fully governed islands in Malaysia.[5] The largest island is Borneo, which is shared with Indonesia and Brunei.[6] The second largest island is Sebatik Island, in Sabah, which is shared with Indonesia.[7][8]

Of note, Sarawak contains the Mulu caves within Gunung Mulu National Park. Its Sarawak Chamber has the largest known cave chamber in the world. The Mulu national park was declared a World Heritage Site in November 2000.[9]

Sabah's attractions includes World Heritage Site Kinabalu Park which has Mount Kinabalu,[10] and Sipadan Island, a diving and bio-diversity hot-spot.[11]


Some parts of present-day East Malaysia, especially the coastal regions, were once part of the thalassocracy of the Sultanate of Brunei.[12] However, most parts of the interior region consisted of independent tribal societies.

In the mid 17th century, the north and eastern coast of Sabah was ceded to the Sultanate of Sulu while most of Sarawak remained part of Brunei. Beginning the mid 19th century, both Sabah and Sarawak became British protectorates and in 1946 both became separate British colonies.


Both Sabah (formerly British North Borneo) and Sarawak were separate British colonies from Malaya, and did not become part of the Federation of Malaya in 1957. However, both voted to become part of the new Federation of Malaysia along with the Federation of Malaya and Singapore in 1963. Previously, there were efforts to unite Brunei, Sabah and Sarawak under the North Borneo Federation but that failed after the Brunei Revolt occurred.

Sabah and Sarawak retained a higher degree of local government and legislative autonomy when compared to other states in West Malaysia. For example, both states have separate immigration controls, requiring Malaysian citizens from West Malaysia to carry passports or identity cards when visiting East Malaysia.

The island of Labuan joined Malaysia and became part of Sabah in 1963 before becoming a Federal Territory in 1984. It was used to establish a centre for offshore finance in 1990.[13]


It has been a source of debate whether the states of Sabah and Sarawak joined the Federation of Malaysia as equal partners with Malaya and Singapore or whether they became merely equal partners of the states of Malaya (Peninsular Malaysia).[14] The consensus seems to be that Sabah and Sarawak are merely one of the states in the federation with a slightly higher degree of autonomy compared to other states in Peninsular Malaysia. For example, the East Malaysian states have separate laws regulating the entry of citizens from other states in Malaysia, including the other East Malaysian state, whereas, in Peninsular, there are no restriction for interstate travel or migration, including visitors from East Malaysia. There are also separate land law governing Sabah and Sarawak, instead of the National Land Code which governs the whole of Peninsular Malaysia.

With regard to the administration of justice, the courts in East Malaysia are part of the federal court system in Malaysia. The Constitution of Malaysia provides that there shall be two High Courts of coordinate jurisdiction – The High Court in Malaya and the High Court in Sabah and Sarawak (formerly the High Court in Borneo). The current Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak is Richard Malanjum from Sabah. His office is the fourth highest in the Malaysian judicial system.


The total population of East Malaysia in 2010 is estimated to be 6 million (3.5 million in Sabah and 2.5 million in Sarawak),[15] which represents roughly 20% of the population of Malaysia. Significant amount of the population of East Malaysia today reside in towns and cities. The largest city and urban center is Kuching, which is also the capital of Sarawak and has a population of over 600,000 inhabitants. Kota Kinabalu is the second largest city and one of the most important cities in East Malaysia. Both Kuching and Kota Kinabalu together with Miri are the only three places with city status in East Malaysia. Other important towns include Sandakan and Tawau in Sabah and Sibu and Bintulu in Sarawak.

The earliest inhabitants of East Malaysia are the Dayak people and other related ethnic groups such as the Dusun people. These indigenous inhabitants form a significant portion of the population of East Malaysia, however they do not represent the majority population. There are significant migration into East Malaysia and Borneo from many parts of the Malay Archipelago since hundreds of years ago, including from Java, Lesser Sunda Islands, Sulawesi and Sulu. There are also recent migrations from further regions such as India and China.

The indigenous inhabitants are originally animists. Islamic influence had reached East Malaysia from as early as the 15th century while there are also Christian influence beginning the 19th century.

The indigenous inhabitants of East Malaysia are generally partisan and maintain culturally distinct dialects of the Malay language, in addition to their own ethnic languages. Approximately 13% of the population of Sabah, and 26% of the population of Sarawak, is composed of ethnic Chinese Malaysians.


The Pan Borneo Highway connects Sabah and Sarawak as well as Brunei. East Malaysia is connected to Peninsular Malaysia via air transport with frequent flights between cities of East Malaysia and Peninsular Malaysia. These flights are provided by Malaysia Airlines (MAS) and AirAsia. MAS operates flights from several countries to major cities in East Malaysia. Major airports in East Malaysia includes Kuching International Airport and Kota Kinabalu International Airport.[16]

The rural areas in Borneo can only be accessible by air or by rivers. River transport is especially prevalent in Sarawak because there are many large and long rivers with Rajang River being the most used river in Sarawak. Rivers are used by boats and ferries for transporting passengers and communications between inland areas and coastal towns. Timber is also transported via vessels and log carriers down the rivers of Sarawak.[16]


  1. ^ "Malaysia urged to scrap coal plant in eco-sensitive Borneo". AFP. July 7, 2010. http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5j8XrzbzMEHI_Mb5D1IHsGoveMMeA. Retrieved 2010-07-08. 
  2. ^ http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2006:354:0019:0028:EN:PDF
  3. ^ "Location". Malaysia Travel.org.uk. http://www.malaysiatravel.org.uk/geography.html. Retrieved 7 July 2010. 
  4. ^ "Malay Peninsula". HarperCollins Publishers. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Malay+Peninsula. Retrieved 7 July 2010. 
  5. ^ a b Geography, Malaysiahistorical.com.my, http://www.malaysiahistorical.com.my/geography.html, retrieved 2010-07-16 
  6. ^ "Motorcycle tour description and itinerary for the Borneo-East Malaysia motorcycle tour.". Asian Bike Tour. http://www.asianbiketour.com/Motorcycle_tour_Asia_BORNEO_East_Malaysia_Tour_6.htm. Retrieved 20 July 2010. 
  7. ^ "Dive The Kakaban Island". De 'Gigant Tours. http://www.borneotourgigant.com/Kakaban.html. Retrieved 20 July 2010. 
  8. ^ "Sebatik Island off Sabah, Malaysia 1965". The Band of Her Majesty's Royal Marines. http://www.exroyalmarinesbandsmen.net/NOTICEBOARD/wright.htm. Retrieved 20 July 2010. 
  9. ^ "Gunung Mulu National Park". UNESCO.org. http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1013. Retrieved 20 July 2010. 
  10. ^ "Kinabalu Park". UNESCO.org. http://whc.unesco.org/pg.cfm?cid=31&id_site=1012. Retrieved 20 July 2010. 
  11. ^ "Diving at Sipadan Island, Borneo – An Untouched Piece of Art". Aquaviews: Online Scuba Magazine. January 10, 2010. http://aquaviews.net/diving-at-sipadan-island-borneo-an-untouched-piece-of-art/. Retrieved 20 July 2010. 
  12. ^ Saunders, Graham E. (2002), A History of Brunei, RoutlegdeCurzon, p. 45, http://books.google.com/books?id=SQ4t_OJgSjAC&pg=PA40&lpg=PA40&dq=ong+sum+ping#v=onepage&q=ong%20sum%20ping&f=false, retrieved 2009-10-05 
  13. ^ "Labuan Hotel and Resort, Malaysia". MARIMARI.com. http://www.marimari.com/hotel/malaysia/labuan.html. Retrieved 15 July 2010. 
  14. ^ "'Know Federal System' advice". Daily Express. May 21, 2010. http://www.dailyexpress.com.my/news.cfm?NewsID=72641. Retrieved 2010-07-09. 
  15. ^ Helders, Stephan (2010), Malaysia: Administrative Divisions (population and area), World Gazetteer, http://www.world-gazetteer.com/wg.php?x=&men=gadm&lng=en&des=wg&geo=-152&srt=pnan&col=adhoq&msz=1500, retrieved 2010-08-02 
  16. ^ a b "Getting To Borneo By Air, By Car, By Train". Asia Web Direct. http://www.borneo-hotels.com/info/gettingthere.htm. Retrieved 15 July 2010. 

External links


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