Ties between the world's top two economies will "do much to determine the shape of the 21st century," Kerry said, before key meetings in China preparing the way for a visit next week by US President Barack Obama.
Kerry was due to leave later today on his latest diplomatic whirlwind. He is scheduled to arrive first in Paris for meetings with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.
He will then fly to Beijing for a meeting of Asia-Pacific foreign ministers, ahead of an APEC leaders' summit next week.
Because US-China ties are so important, "that means we have to get it right," Kerry told an audience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington.
He added the relationship had to be "carefully managed."
The two countries, which make up one-third of the global economy and a quarter of the world's population, need to ensure that they do not just "co-exist but that we also cooperate," Kerry said.
The top US diplomat outlined four specific goals for the Obama administration's so-called "rebalance" towards Asia.
They include creating sustainable economic growth, including finalising an ambitious trade pact called the Trans-Pacific Partnership to encompass 40 per cent of the global economy stretching across 12 nations.

With China and the United States being the world's two biggest polluters, the US also aims to power a clean energy shift to address climate change.
Through promoting regional cooperation, the US hopes to reduce regional tensions and help empower people throughout the Asia-Pacific region to live in dignity and security, Kerry said.

Latest News from World News Desk