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What was to become East Malaysia had different colonial administrations: Sarawak was governed by a British family, the Brookes (styled as the "White Rajas"), and Sabah was run by the British North Borneo Company.

A geographically truncated Malaysia emerged out of the territories colonized by Britain in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Britain's representatives gained varying degrees of control through agreements with the Malay rulers of the peninsular states, often made by deceit or force.

These grew into the Federation of Malaya, which gained independence in 1957.

In 1963, with the addition of Singapore and the north Borneo territories, this federation became Malaysia.

The climactic event in forming Malaysia was the Japanese occupation of Southeast Asia from 1942-1945.