For businesses, he said, "this is where the action's going to be."
"There is no region in the world that we consider more vital than the Asia-Pacific region," he told chief executives gathered for a regional economic summit.
The president went so far as to saying the United States had grown "a little bit lazy" in trying to attract business to the United States.
Obama's aides said he was blunt with Hu in expressing concern about China's undervalued currency, which keeps its exports cheaper and U.S. exports to China more expensive.
Deputy National Security Adviser Mike Froman said Obama made it clear that Americans are growing "increasingly impatient and frustrated" with the state of change in China economic policy. China had a $273 billion trade surplus with the U.S. last year and U.S. lawmakers say the imbalance hurts American manufacturers and taken away American jobs.
Underscoring the search for some good economic news ahead heading toward a re-election vote, Obama announced the broad outlines of an agreement to create a transpacific trade zone encompassing the United States and eight other nations. He said details must still be worked out, but said the goal was to complete the deal by next year.
"The United States is a Pacific power and we're here to stay," Obama said.
The eight countries joining the U.S. in the zone would be Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Obama also spoke with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda about Japan's interest in joining the trade bloc.
In a sign of potential tension with China, Froman shrugged off complaints from China that it had not been invited to join the trade bloc.
He told reporters that China had not expressed interest in joining and said the trade group "is not something that one gets invited to. It's something that one aspires to."
Addressing the European debt crisis, Obama said he welcomed the new governments being formed in Greece and Italy, saying they should help calm world financial markets. Obama's ever increasing attention to the Asia-Pacific is driven in part by Europe's own financial woes and the U.S. need to get more aggressive in tapping its export options.
Obama will be in Honolulu through Tuesday, when he leaves for Australia before ending his trip in Indonesia.
Associated Press Writer Erica Werner in Honolulu contributed to this report.
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