No secretary of State since Dean Rusk under President Kennedy has made Asia his or her initial destination. But beyond the mere choice of Asia, Clinton has offered few advance hints on what she wants the week-long trip to accomplish.
She has said she is intent upon laying the foundation for a "comprehensive dialogue" with China – one that expands beyond what she describes as an "economic dialogue" under the Bush administration.
The tricky part for Clinton is that she will be seeking to broaden the discussion with a rising global power into areas it is reluctant to address – human rights and greenhouse gases. And this comes at a time when the US needs China's cooperation in the financial crisis.
A new secretary of State is always watched for the signals she or he sends with a first overseas trip, and that is especially true when the message-sending is also on behalf of a new president. The usual choice of destination is Europe or the Middle East – but those places were already spoken for. President Obama had already named special envoys to the Middle East and to Afghanistan and Pakistan, while Vice President Joseph Biden was tapped to address the new administration's relations with Europe at a major security conference in Germany last week.