Malaysia was an important region of the British Empire for a century and a half. The British first became established in Malacca, whilst the peninsula region of Malaya, together with the northern parts of Borneo and Sumatra, consisted of a series of independent Sultanates. The Straits of Malacca were strategically important on the vital routes between Europe and China, so strong competition took place between European nations for a controlling presence in the area. The British eventually won the contest. Two more settlements were created on the island of Penang and at Singapore in 1819. These ports, together with Malacca, became known as the ‘Straits Settlements’, with Singapore serving as the governmental centre. It was here that the principle of a free-trade centre was firmly established – a port where any ship was welcome and where all goods could be traded completely free of taxes or interference from the local government. The idea was that the stimulation to trade was bound to be good for the host country and examples such as Hong Kong, Macau, and Gibraltar, as well as Singapore, clearly demonstrated that this was true right up to present times. It was particularly so in Singapore and led to the great economic success enjoyed by the region even today. It also cemented the role of the British firmly at the head of the European Imperial powers for the next 100 years or more. Economic activity was further stimulated when tin was discovered on the peninsula, and great competition, which sometimes resulted in violence, resulted from the rush for wealth.
Malaysia was occupied by the Japanese in WWII and liberated by the British in 1945. After a period of some instability, Malaysia became an independent nation in 1957 and comprises not only penisular Malaysia but also the eastern states of Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo. Singapore withdrew from the Malaysian Federation in 1965
The Malacca Strait is the strategically important waterway that separates the Malayasia Peninsula from the Indonesian island of Sumatra. It links the Andaman Sea in the north to the South China Sea in the south and is about 805 km in length, varying from 50 to 320 km in width. Named after the state and town in Malaysia, its name is also spelled as Melaka.