Her comments were made to reporters in Seoul, South Korea, on her way to Beijing, China -- the last leg of her tour through Asia, where she also visited Tokyo, Japan, and Jakarta, Indonesia. She plans to return to the United States on Sunday.
Clinton, who openly criticized China's human rights record in a 1995 speech in Beijing when her husband Bill Clinton was president, told reporters there is a certain predictability to U.S.-Chinese disagreements on political freedoms, U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and the status of Tibet, reported Reuters.
She said in addition to the global economy and climate change, she also plans to address North Korea's nuclear ambitions during her meetings with Chinese officials.
Clinton has stressed the importance of making sure North Korea dismantles its nuclear program in order for relations between the two countries to improve.
"Now, that doesn't mean that questions of Taiwan, Tibet, human rights, the whole range of challenges that we often engage on with the Chinese, are not part of the agenda," Clinton told reporters, according to Reuters. "But we pretty much know what they are going to say.
"We have to continue to press them but our pressing on those issues can't interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crises," she added. "We have to have a dialogue that leads to an understanding and cooperation on each of those."
Human rights groups, some of whom had written to Clinton last week urging her to make the matter a priority, immediately denounced the remarks, according to the Associated Press.
"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 statement.
After meeting Chinese President Hu Jintao and other leaders Saturday, Clinton said she planned to attend church on Sunday morning. She described the act as personal, but it could be taken as a political statement in China, where there are about 40 million active Christians, who meet in either state-run or underground churches, Reuters reported.
The country's ruling Communist Party regards religious and other groups as potential threats to its power.
Clinton began her first overseas trip as secretary in Japan, a gesture meant to calm the country's fears that its interests would not be overshadowed by neighboring China's rise to prominence as an industrial powerhouse.
Her next stop in Indonesia provided her with a chance to portray Americans as sympathetic to Muslim concerns in a country with the world's largest Muslim population.