BEIJING -Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said yesterday that she would not emphasize contentious issues such as human rights in talks this weekend with the Chinese and focus instead on topics on which progress might be more likely: the economy, climate change and security issues.
Clinton's weeklong tour of Asia culminates with meetings in China, where she is remembered for a tough 1994 speech on human rights. But she said that after years of pressing Beijing, the dialogue on human rights, freedom for Tibet and accommodation with Taiwan had grown predictable.
"We know what they're going to say because I've had those kinds of conversations for more than a decade with Chinese leaders," Clinton told reporters. "We have to continue to press them. But our pressing on these issues can't interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crisis."
Clinton wants a broader dialogue with China as an important feature of her tenure. But she faces challenges on the difficult questions of human rights, which are followed with intense interest by important constituencies, some tied to her Democratic Party base.
Human-rights groups, some of which had written to Clinton urging her to make the matter a priority, immediately denounced the remarks.
"Amnesty International is shocked and extremely disappointed by [Clinton's] comments that human rights will not be a priority in her diplomatic engagement with China," the organization said in a statement.
"The United States is one of the only countries that can meaningfully stand up to China on human-rights issues," it said. "By commenting that human rights will not interfere with other priorities, Secretary Clinton damages future U.S. initiatives to protect those rights in China."
Human Rights Watch said Clinton had "made a strategic mistake in appearing to concede that she expects no meeting of the minds on human-rights issues."
Clinton said she planned to visit a state-sanctioned church tomorrow but did not wish to draw heightened attention to the stop.
"My intention was just to go to church," she said.
She plans also to talk to some Chinese who are not connected to the government. Human-rights issues may come up in those conversations, but aides said she planned no special meetings with human-rights activists.
Chinese officials have said they welcome a broadened dialogue with the United States, but it is unclear how enthusiastic they are about those conversations. Chinese officials have been participating in wide-ranging talks with U.S. officials, but economic issues have dominated.
Clinton traveled to China after a one-day visit to South Korea, which ended with a strong statement of support for the embattled South Korean government and stern words for North Korea.
In an appearance with South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung Hwan, Clinton said that North Korea "is not going to get a different relationship with the United States while insulting and refusing dialogue" with South Korea.
She referred to North Korea as a "tyranny," and, later in the day, as the "hermit kingdom," referring to its secretive nature.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.