In a report on the state of human rights around the world, the State Department singled out China for numerous violations while noting a general deterioration in conditions in other countries in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and eastern Europe.
The department accused China of stepping up "severe cultural and religious repression" of minorities in Tibet and elswehere as well as increasing its detention and harassment of dissidents.
"The government of China's human rights record remained poor and worsened in some areas," the State Department said. The report noted that Chinese authorities continued to limit citizens' right to privacy, freedom of speech, assembly, movement and association. It said authorities also committed extrajudicial killings and torture, coerced confessions from prisoners and used forced labor.
The report said the abuses peaked around high-profile events like last year's Olympic Games in Beijing and unrest in Tibet and that toward the end of last year the government began harassing activists who signed a petition calling for respect of human rights.
The report covers 2008 and was largely drafted during President George W. Bush's administration, but Clinton signed off on the findings.
Clinton was criticized by human rights groups for saying on a trip to Asia last week that while the Obama administration is deeply concerned about human rights in China the matter could not be allowed to interfere with attempts to cooperate with Beijing on the worldwide economic meltdown or fighting global climate change.
"We have to continue to press them," Clinton said last week during her Asia trip. "But our pressing on those issues can't interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crises. We have to have a dialogue that leads to an understanding and cooperation on each of those."
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."
In recent months some 300 Chinese lawyers, writers, scholars and artists signed and circulated the plea for a new constitution guaranteeing human rights, election of public officials, freedom of religion and expression, and an end to the party's hold over the military, courts and government.