The Palau island chain consists of about 200 islands located in the western Pacific Ocean, 528 mi (650 km) southeast of the Philippines. Only eight of the islands are permanently inhabited. They vary geologically from the high, mountainous, largest island, Babelthuap, to low coral islands, usually fringed by large barrier reefs.
The original settlers of Palau are believed to have arrived from Indonesia as early as 2500 BC The Palau islands' position on the western threshold of Oceania and their proximity to Southeast Asia have combined to form a mixed population of Malay, Melanesian, Filipino, and Polynesian ancestry.
Explored by the Spanish navigator Ruy López de Villalobos in 1543, the islands remained under nominal Spanish ownership for more than 300 years before Spain sold them to Germany in 1899. Japan occupied Palau during World War I and received a mandate over them from the League of Nations in 1920. They remained in Japanese control and served as an important naval base until the U.S. seized them during World War II. After the war, the islands became a UN trusteeship (1947), administered by the U.S. Palau signed a Compact of Free Association with the U.S. in 1992, requiring the United States to provide economic aid in exchange for the right to build and maintain U.S. military facilities in Palau. Palau became a sovereign state in 1994.
In 2000, former vice president Tommy Remengesau won the presidential election. In December 2008 presidential elections, former ambassador to Taiwan Johnson Toribiong defeated Vice President Elias Camsek Chin, 51%–49%. In November 2012, Tommy Remengesau was elected to another term as president. Remengesau took office for the second time on January 17, 2013.