THE relationship between the United States and China faces greater strain over human rights this week as the Dalai Lama, the exiled leader of Tibet, presents the case for Tibetan freedom to US lawmakers. The Dalai Lama plans to meet with members of Congress during a five-day visit to Washington ending April 19. If his past visits are any guide, China will vehemently denounce the meetings as interference in its domestic affairs.
Since fleeing Tibet in 1959, the Dalai Lama has sought a peaceful end to China's occupation of the Himalayan region. China annexed Tibet in 1950 and, over the years, has destroyed hundreds of Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and jailed thousands of Tibetans for their political and religious beliefs.
The visit to Washington is the latest move in an escalating propaganda war between Tibetan exiles and China. The Dalai Lama planned to meet with members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee April 16 in the first of several meetings with US legislators.
China is restrained in its handling of Tibet and other minority areas by a worsening political dilemma, diplomats and scholars say. To maintain critical trade ties with the United States, Beijing must minimize its human rights abuses against Tibetans and tolerate limited criticism by Washington on the issue.
Beijing fears that its poor human rights record could prompt Washington to deny it tariff exemptions worth billions of dollars in exports each year.
But some analysts say China's appearance of moderation is deceptive. Only through iron-fisted rule can China ensure that its minority regions do not emulate restive Soviet republics.
"The Chinese government is really facing a problem, because 201&gt; of what is going on in the Soviet Union," says June Dreyer, a political scientist at the University of Miami. "This is part of the hardening by Beijing: If it doesn't rein in [Tibet and other minority regions] they will go the way of Georgia and other areas in the Soviet Union and declare independence."
China maintains thousands of troops in Lhasa, the capital, and throughout Tibet. The Monitor has reported several incidents since 1987 when China has used overwhelming force against independence protests.
Members of a recent US delegation to Tibet quote Lhasa officials as saying that Tibetan activists staged a demonstration last month, even though heavily armed police patrol most public places.
WITH continued repression in Lhasa, the Dalai Lama confronts growing pressure from militant Tibetan exiles to condone more forceful activism, the scholars and diplomats say. But rather than contradict his faith and tolerate violence, the Dalai Lama has stepped up his public diplomacy, including visits to England, Ireland, and the US.
In an effort to placate militant exiles, the Dalai Lama has also indicated that, without a favorable response from Beijing, he will disown his 1988 offer to recognize China's control of Tibet's foreign affairs and defense in return for autonomy in domestic affairs.
China refuses to negotiate on the proposal, denouncing it as a attempt to achieve independence for Tibet.
"No matter who wants to separate Tibet from China, the Tibetan people won't tolerate it or let them do it," says Ren Yinong at the state nationalities affairs commission.
Despite their strained relations with Tibetans, state officials in Lhasa are preparing China's poorest region for several weeks of costly and elaborate "public celebrations" of China's 40th year of sovereignty in Tibet, beginning on May 23.
The 100 events in the jubilee including parades, dances, a lantern festival, fireworks, a fashion show, yak butter exhibitions, and a climb by 10,000 mountaineers up a Himalayan peak.