Republic of Indonesia, island republic of Southeast Asia, constituting most of the Malay Archipelago. Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous country after China, India, and the United States. More than half the people live on Java, where Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital and largest city, is located. Although the islands are home to more than 100 ethnic groups, most Indonesians are of mixed Malay origins and practice Islam.
Several of Indonesia’s islands hosted powerful trading kingdoms between the 5th and 16th centuries ad. The Dutch took control of the islands in the early 1600s and for three centuries profited from Indonesia’s economy, largely at the expense of the local population. Dutch authority over the islands peaked in the early 20th century. But growing Indonesian nationalism led to a declaration of independence in 1945, and the Dutch finally transferred sovereignty in 1949. The country enjoyed tremendous economic growth in the 1980s and much of the 1990s, partly due to Indonesia’s abundant natural resources and increases in the manufacturing and services sectors. As a result, Indonesia’s middle class grew considerably, but poverty remained widespread. Indonesia plunged into an economic crisis in 1997 that led to significant political changes, including the resignation of President Suharto, who had been in office for more than 30 years. Democratic elections held in 1999 installed a new government.
Indonesia is located south and east of mainland Asia and north and west of Australia. About half of Indonesia’s nearly 13,700 islands are inhabited; all are located in the Indian and Pacific oceans. The islands stretch across 5,100 km (3,200 mi) in the region of the equator, a distance nearly one-eighth of the Earth’s circumference. The main islands of Indonesia are Java (Jawa), Sumatra (Sumatera), and Sulawesi (Celebes). The republic shares the island of Borneo with Malaysia and Brunei; Indonesian Borneo makes up about 75 percent of the island and is called Kalimantan. Indonesia also shares the island of New Guinea with Papua New Guinea; Indonesia occupies the western half of the island, known as Papua (formerly Irian Jaya). The smaller islands of Indonesia include Madura, Lombok, Sumbawa, Flores, and Bali. Indonesia administers the western part of Timor Island. Indonesia controlled the eastern part, East Timor, from 1975 until 1999, when the East Timorese voted for independence. The territory was under the administration of the United Nations from 1999 until 2002, when it officially became an independent republic. Unless otherwise indicated, statistical information up to 1999 in this article includes East Timor.
Indonesia is surrounded by the South China Sea, the Celebes Sea, and the Pacific Ocean to the north, and by the Indian Ocean to the south and west. A stretch of mostly open water consisting of the Java, Flores, and Banda seas divides the major islands of Indonesia into two unequal strings: in the south, the long, narrow islands of Sumatra, Java, Timor, and others; and in the north, the islands of Sulawesi, the Moluccas (Spice Islands), and New Guinea. Each of the major northern islands has a central mountain mass, with plains around the coasts. Puncak Jaya (5,030 m/16,503 ft), in the Sudirman Mountains of Papua, is the highest point in the republic. On the southern islands, a chain of volcanic mountains rises to heights of more than 3,600 m (11,800 ft) and extends from Sumatra in the west to Timor in the east. The highest points are Kerinci (3,805 m/12,484 ft) on Sumatra and Semeru (3,676 m/12,060 ft) on Java.
The most extensive lowland areas are in Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan, and Papua. Over centuries, volcanic flows from the many active volcanoes have deposited rich soils on the lowlands, particularly in Java. Java’s fertile volcanic soils support a large agricultural population. The rest of Indonesia is more sparsely settled but contains most of the country’s mineral wealth, including oil in Kalimantan and Sumatra, timber in Kalimantan, and copper in Papua.
Indonesia’s greatest distance from north to south is about 1,900 km (about 1,200 mi) and from east to west about 5,100 km (about 3,200 mi). The country’s total area is 1,904,570 sq km (735,359 sq mi).
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