Hillary Clinton in Beijing

NEW YORK – Hillary Clinton is off to China. The US Secretary of State’s decision to make her first overseas trip to Asia, particularly China, was a smart one and, if done with aplomb, could yield enormous returns for the Obama administration as it attempts to re-establish world leadership.

The fact that Clinton chose to go to Asia now, when the State Department remains unsettled – with no ambassador in Beijing, many old officials having departed or leaving, and many new appointees still unseated – attests to her determination to stake out Asia as her own area.

What she brings to this task is openness and an eagerness to construct a new architecture for Sino-US relations. But, even as a host of other issues come into play, strengthening this most important of bi-lateral relationships requires a new, underlying common interest. Paradoxically, the challenge of climate change is a good place to look.

The Chinese government should not underestimate Clinton’s and Obama’s commitment to this issue. As she said in a pre-trip speech at the Asia Society in New York, “Collaboration on clean energy and greater efficiency offers a real opportunity to deepen the overall US-Chinese relationship.”