The secretary's speech at the U.S.-sponsored East-West Center in Honolulu comes as the Obama administration nears the end of a first year in office that Clinton says gave substance to its pledges to re-engage with Asia-Pacific nations.
The Clinton trip is her fourth to a region she says felt neglected by the United States during the Bush administration, and is now breathing a collective "sigh of relief" at the resumption of active U.S. engagement.
In a talk with reporters en route to Hawaii, she said there is universal recognition that China is a "rising power of the 21st century" and that other Asian countries want to see the United States involved in the region as a force for peace and a guarantor of stability as that rise occurs.
Clinton said the Obama administration seeks a mature relationship with China, one that "doesn't go off the rails" despite differences with Beijing about American arms sales to Taiwan and an expected meeting next month between President Obama and Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
"It has been American policy and will remain American policy that we will provide defensive arms for Taiwan," she said. "We have a different perspective on the role and ambitions of the Dalai Lama, which we've been very public about, in expressing that we do not support any claims on the sovereignty or territorial integrity of China. You know we reject that but we support the legitimate desire for cultural and religious respect and autonomy. And, those are views that are consonant with our values."
Clinton called last year's United Nations sanctions resolution against North Korea for its missile and nuclear weapons tests a tangible result of U.S. Asian diplomacy and expressed hope it will be a milestone toward resumption of Chinese-sponsored six-party talks on Pyongyang's nuclear program.
She dismissed renewed North Korean calls for peace treaty talks with the United States as a prelude to Pyongyang's return to nuclear negotiations, saying the six-party framework provides for discussions on new security arrangements for the region.
"My hope is that the Chinese will call for a resumption of the six-party talks at some point in the future and that, as part of the agenda for the six-party talks, there will be opportunities for these bilateral discussions on the margins. And, we stand ready to have those discussions with North Korea. But we feel strongly that the six-party talks framework needs to be re-energized and we're hoping that will happen," she said.
Clinton's meeting with her Japanese counterpart is expected to focus on the Tokyo government's discontent with an agreement signed in 2006 under which the United States would move 8,000 American troops from Okinawa to Guam and relocate others in Okinawa to ease the burden for residents of the southern Japanese island.
The process would be largely financed by Japan.
Leaders of the left-leaning coalition which won Japanese elections last year campaigned for sharper reductions in the U.S. Okinawa presence, including the closure of the Futenma Marine base, a focus of Japanese criticism for its environmental impact and past criminal cases involving U.S. troops.
Since taking office last August, the government of Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has softened the rhetoric on Futenma but does want to revisit the agreement.
In her comments with reporters, Clinton avoided specifics on Okinawa but said the American-Japanese security alliance, nearing its 50th anniversary January 19, is "bigger than any one issue."
The Obama administration has said on a number of occasions that it does not want to alter the base accord, the product of years of delicate negotiations.