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Mr. Obama is “holding a pretty weak hand” with the Chinese, said Dean Cheng, fellow at the Asian Studies Center at the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation in Washington.

“The real concern [among the Chinese] has to do with our debt and our deficits,” Mr. Cheng said. “This administration has no plans whatsoever to deal with deficits.”

But Mr. Obama’s rhetoric is important because it might “convince the Asia-Pacific neighborhood that America is willing to speak clearly to the Chinese and make a commitment to Asia,” said Ernest Z. Bower, director of the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“The Chinese have to take notice,” Mr. Bower said.

Mr. Obama said at one point the U.S. is “rooting for China to grow” because it will aid in the growth of U.S. exports. And he said the U.S. has been “lazy” in its pursuit of trade opportunities in recent years.

“We’ve been a little bit lazy over the last couple of decades,” Mr. Obama said. “We’ve kind of taken for granted — ‘Well, people would want to come here’ — and we aren’t out there hungry, selling America and trying to attract new businesses into America.”

While international trade and national security were the main topics at the conference, there were still reminders for Mr. Obama of domestic politics. As he arrived at the summit site Sunday morning, about 20 people greeted his motorcade holding up pieces of paper that spelled “Cain,” a promotion for Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain.