What the map of Peninsula Malaysia would look like today if…


Mohd Hazmi Mohd Rusli

What the map of Peninsula Malaysia would look like today if...
This article provides a general idea of the political scenario of the Peninsula if modern Malaysia did not exist as it does today.


Stretching for almost 1000km as far north as Wang Kelian in Perlis to Tanjung Piai, the southernmost tip of mainland Asia in Johor, the territory of the modern day Peninsula Malaysia inherits the areas once known as British Malaya.

The present Thai-Malaysia boundary has its origins from the Anglo-Siamese Treaty 1909 whilst the separation of Singapore from the Peninsula dated back in 1819 via the Singapore Treaty concluded between the British and the then Malay ruler of Singapore, Sultan Hussein Shah.The modern day Peninsula Malaysia was once dominated for centuries, by a number of mighty regional kingdoms having their capital cities outside the Peninsula, namely Srivijaya and Majapahit.

Srivijaya’s capital city was Palembang in Sumatra whilst the capital of Majapahit was the city of Trowulan in East Java.

History has narrated that the Sultanate of Malacca was the first unified sovereign State established on the Peninsula. Despite the fact that Kedah predated Malacca, the former did not thrive into a fluorishing maritime empire like the latter did. Malacca grew from a small fishing settlement into a respected kingdom in the fifteenth century AD.If Malacca did not fall in 1511 and remained a sovereign State with its territory remained intact till today, the political scenario of sovereignty over the Peninsula would obviously be different from what it is now.

The northern boundary of Malacca would extend beyond the existing Thai-Malaysian border and the southern frontier of the Peninsula would not end at the present day Malaysian city of Johor Bahru.The eastern coast of Sumatra (the modern day Indonesian province of Riau) might still be under the dominion of the Malacca Sultanate, as shown in Map 1:

Map 1
Map 1: The Political Map of the Peninsula if the Malacca Sultanate Remains to this day (Source: Modified from GoogleMaps)

The fall of Malacca in 1511 encouraged the growth of other Malay kingdoms namely the Sultanate of Aceh, Sultanate of Johor-Riau and the Sultanate of Pattani.These sultanates were great regional kingdoms threatening Portuguese forces in Malacca.

Established in 1496, the Sultanate of Aceh had territories extending beyond modern day Indonesian province of Aceh to include Kedah, Pahang and Perak on the Peninsula.Under the command of Sultan Iskandar Muda in the seventeenth century AD, the Sultanate of Aceh reached the epitome of its glory.If this sultanate was never annexed into the Dutch East Indies, the Peninsula might look like this today:

Map 2
Map 2: The Political Map of the Peninsula if Aceh’s Sovereignty Remains (Source: Modified from GoogleMaps)

The Johor-Riau Sultanate, established in 1528 dominated the southern portion of the Peninsula and islands of the Riau Archipelago.This sultanate inherited much of areas used to be under the influence of Malacca and reached its glorious moments in seventeenth century AD.If the Sultanate of Johor-Riau did not split by virtue of the Anglo-Dutch Treaty 1824 and its territories remain unimpaired to this day, the Peninsula might look like this today:

Map 3
Map 3: The Political Map of the Peninsula if Johor-Riau Remains a Sovereign (Source: Modified from GoogleMaps)

The Sultanate of Pattani was also a Malay Sultanate that thrived subsequent to the fall of Malacca.It was a relatively formidable independent sultanate that dominated the northern part of the Peninsula before the southern encroachment of Siam in 1785.

During its heyday in the sixteenth century, the Sultanate of Pattani ruled over much area in modern day Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat, Satun, Kelantan and Terengganu.Should it was never annexed by Siam and remained a sovereign entity, this is how the Peninsula might look like today:

Map 4
Map 4: The Political Map of the Peninsula if Pattani was never colonised (Source: Modified from GoogleMaps)

If these three sultanates were neither colonised nor made vassals of stronger colonising States, modern Peninsula would probably be divided into these realms – southern portion under Johor-Riau, middle part under Aceh and northern territories under the Pattani Kingdom.

Aceh was later dismantled by the Dutch in 1903 and Johor-Riau was partitioned into two parts via the Anglo-Dutch Treaty 1824 – the treaty that placed Sumatra under Dutch influence and Peninsula Malaysia (Malay Peninsula) under that of the British. The Sultanate of Johor exists until today within Malaysia whilst the Riau Sultanate was abolished by the Dutch in 1911. Pattani was annexed as part of Siam in 1909. Unlike the Dutch and the Portuguese, the British was the only European colonial power that was able to dominate the whole Peninsula.

The first British settlement on the Peninsula was Penang in 1786. British managed to secure Singapore in 1819 and Malacca in 1824. These three territories were made British colonies known as the Straits Settlements in 1826. The Malay States of Perak, Pahang, Negeri Sembilan and Selangor became British protectorate States and were unified as the FMS in 1895.

At this period of time, the northern Malay states of Terengganu, Kelantan, Kedah and Perlis were vassals of Siam. Johor was an independent sovereign State as recognised by the British in 1885 via a Friendship Treaty entered into between Sultan Abu Bakar of Johor and Sir Frederick Arthur Stanley.

Therefore, if British Malaya consisted of only the FMS and the Straits Settlements, our fellow countrymen from Kedah, Kelantan, Terengganu and Perlis might be Thais, just like those from Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat provinces today. The Thai border might stretch as south as Kemaman in modern day Terengganu. Johor would probably become a separate sovereign sultanate if it did not join in to form the Federation of Malaya in 1948.

Map 5
Map 5: The Map of ‘Peninsula Malaysia’ if British Malaya only consisted of the FMS and the Straits Settlements – indicated in yellow (Source: Modified from GoogleMaps)

As indicated in Map 5, Peninsula Malaysia would be much smaller in size, with its northern frontier stretching only up to Sungai Muda, a natural river boundary between Penang and Kedah. The southern frontier might end at Sungai Kesang that separates the states of Malacca and Johor.

In 1909, the British took control of Perlis, Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu from Siam and Johor became a British protectorate in 1914. These States were then grouped as the Unfederated Malay States (UFMS). The Japanese formally colonised the Peninsula in 1941 and it became part of the Japanese empire until 1945.

After the end of World War II, the British regained control of the Peninsula and upon Malaya’s independence in 1957, the modern day Peninsula Malaysia inherited the areas once were part of the FMS, UFMS and the Straits Settlements – the territories of our country today.

Map 6
Map 6: Modern Day Peninsula Malaysia (Source: Modified from GoogleMaps)


For centuries, the Peninsula was made into territories of a number of kingdoms straddling across the Malay Archipelago.It was dominated by a number of regional kingdoms before it fell gradually into European control.

This article provides a general idea of the political scenario of the Peninsula if modern Malaysia did not exist as it does today.It is not too simplistic to state that modern Peninsula Malaysia is an approximate facsimile of what Malacca could have been if it remains a sovereign up to today.Despite centuries of colonisation, Malaysians should be grateful that this country was not lost forever in the hands of its former colonial masters.

As such, Malaysians should take pride of Malaysia – continously upholding its territorial integrity by pledging undivided loyalty to protect the sanctity of its sovereignty.

Mohd Hazmi bin Mohd Rusli (Ph. D) is a senior lecturer at Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia and a visiting professor at Far Eastern Federal University, Vladivostok, Russia.

* Territories as illustrated in Maps 1 to 4 only represent the approximate areas of influence and do not necessarily indicate the exact territory of those sovereign entities.

The opinions expressed in this article are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Astro AWANI.

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