Palau, officially Republic of Palau (or Belau), an island country in the western Caroline islands, 550 miles (880 km) east of the Philippines. It consists of 26 islands with a total land area of 177 square miles (458 km2). Babelthuap, the largest island, has an area of 153 square miles (396 km2). The capital is Koror, on the island of the same name. Palau has a population of about 20,000. Most of the people of Palau are Christians. Many of the rest follow a local religion known as Modekngei, which emphasizes traditional Palauan culture and values.
Most of the jobs in the country are provided by the Palauan government, and most of he money for the government comes from the United States. Tourism is an important industry. The chief cash crop is coconut, and tuna is the chief export.
During World War II, the islands served as a major Japanese naval base. United States forces captured Peleliu and Angaur (sites of Japanese airfields) and four other islands in 1944. In 1947, the Palau Islands, along with most of the other islands of Micronesia, became part of a United Nations trusteeship administered by the United States.
The islands of the Palau group adopted a constitution in 1979. Presidential and legislative elections were held in 1980 and the Republic of Palau came into being in 1981. In 1986 the other islands in the trust territory became independent but Palau remained part of the trusteeship. However, Palau and the United States concluded a compact of free association that, upon ratification, would grant the islands independence. The compact went into effect in 1994. Under this pact, the government of Palau is responsible for its own internal and foreign affairs, but the United States is responsible for its defense.
Palau is a republic with a president, who is the head of state, and a two-house legislature that consists of 9 senators and 16 delegates. All serve four four-year terms.