But he warned that the United States will have to compete with China in Africa and elsewhere.
The relationship with "China is an ongoing process. And it takes commitment and perseverance to break through on one issue or another," Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which he still heads. "We have a lot of issues with China. [But] it's critical for us to strengthen our relationship with China.
"China is, you know, the other sort of significant economy in the world, and obviously has [a] voracious appetite for resources around the world," Kerry said. "But on things like intellectual property, market access, currency, there are still significant challenges ahead with China. Now, my hope is that [Chinese leader] Xi Jinping and the new [Chinese] administration will recognize also the need to sort of broaden the relationship with us in return."
Kerry said he "could envision a way in which China could play a much more significant role as a partner in any number of efforts globally. ... We will be competitors in the economic marketplace, but shouldn't be viewed as adversaries in some way that diminishes our ability to cooperate in a number of things.
"China is cooperating with us now on Iran. I think there might be more we could perhaps do with respect to North Korea. There could be more we could do in other parts of the Far East. And hopefully, we can build those relationships that will further that transformation.
"We make progress," he said. "It's incremental. You know, it's a tough slog."
Kerry the United States is falling behind China in Africa.
"Now with respect to China and Africa, China is all over Africa -- I mean, all over Africa. And they're buying up long-term contracts on minerals, on ... you name it," Kerry said. "And there're some places where we're not in the game, folks. And I hate to say it. And we got to get in. But it takes a little bit of resourcing. Believe me, somebody's paying for those folks to be over there. And somebody's investing in their investment of time.
"And we have to be prepared," he said, "because I think that what we bring to the table is, frankly, a lot more attractive than what a lot of other countries bring to the table. People like to do business with American businesses. People -- we're open, we're accountable. ... I think that if we can organize ourselves more effectively in this sector we can win."