Leaders of the world's 20 major economies refused Friday to support a proposal by the U.S to force China to let its currency appreciate and cut its trade surplus.
"It wasn't any easier to talk about currency when I was first elected and my poll numbers were at 65 percent," Obama argued at the close of the G-20 summit, after bluntly accusing Beijing of undervaluing the yuan.
Some critics complain that by keeping its currency artificially low, China is making its products cheaper worldwide and costing America jobs.
"China spends enormous amounts of money intervening in the market to keep it undervalued so what we have said is it is important for China in a gradual fashion to transition to a market based system," Obama said.
Looming in the background is the threat the currency dispute will give rise to the protectionist trade measures that exacerbated the Great Depression in the 1930s.
The U.S also failed on Thursday to secure a free-trade agreement with South Korea, though the countries will continue to try and resolve differences over U.S. access to Korean markets.
"We don't want months to pass before this is done," the president said. "We want this to be done in a matter of weeks."
Despite the various divisions plaguing the summit, leaders did manage to settle on various measures meant to achieve global economic stability. None, however, were enforceable or specific.
"Leaders are putting the best face on matters by suggesting that it is the process that matters rather than results," Stephen Lewis, chief economist for London-based Monument Securities, told ABC News.
"The only concrete agreement seems to be that they should go on measuring the size of the problem rather than doing something about it," he concluded.