After decades of harsh repression at the hands of China, the rocky realm of Tibet may again be finding its voice.

Tibet's exiled leader, the Dalai Lama, drew admiring applause on his recent visit to Washington and even obtained a meeting with President Bush. These gestures of respect were appropriate and welcome.For 40 years, ever since China ruthlessly imposed its campaign of "liberation" on its defenseless, mountainous neighbor, Tibet has suffered dreadfully.

The government of China, seeking to crush Tibet's unique identity by crushing and eradicating its culture, has destroyed all but a handful of the country's 6,000 Buddhist monasteries.

Monks have been jailed and tortured. In the desperate uprising that began in Tibet four years ago, according to Asia Watch, the human rights group, hundreds of Tibetans were arrested; many of them were tortured and remain locked up as political prisoners.

This appalling chronicle helps explain why Tibet remains so desperate to escape China's grasp.

Although it has been intermittently under Chinese rule through much of its history, Tibet was independent for some 40 years, from 1911 to 1951, when Mao Zedong's communist forces moved in.

Tibet wants to regain its independence, and in this goal it deserves the world's support. China is treating Tibet in barbaric fashion, and Bush, having had the grace to receive the Dalai Lama, should find the words to bluntly say so to the Chinese government.

China, for its part, gives no sign of relenting. Beijing, in fact, has just excoriated the Voice of America for its new Tibetan-language broadcasts, labeling them improper interference with Chinese affairs.

This is, of course, nonsense. Tibet's case for independence from China is real and compelling. And the United States, rooted in freedom and democracy, should not shrink from invoking those ideals whenever we can.