US President Barack Obama has called for surplus economies such as China to end reliance on exports for growth - but his Chinese counterpart says economic policy change will come gradually.
Mr Obama and President Hu Jintao spoke a day after a summit in Seoul of the Group of 20 (G20) major economies managed only vague commitments to keeping a fragile global economic recovery on track.
They have now joined other APEC leaders - including New Zealand Prime Minister John Key - in Japan for talks on the establishment of a vast free-trade area in the world's fastest-growing economic region.
The United States and China have been sparring over who is doing more damage to international trade.
The US argues that China is keeping the yuan artificially low, thus unfairly advantaging Chinese exports, but Mr Hu says China is committed to reforming its exchange rate while boosting its growth rate.
China has been critical of US financial policy, following the Federal Reserve's announcement that it will pump as much as $600 billion into the American economy.
The BBC reports that the Seoul summit - attended by nine APEC members - was overshadowed by the currency valuation argument and made little progress on the core issue of how to avoid the competitive devaluation of regional currencies.
APEC is for the first time championing a collective growth strategy, emphasising balanced and sustainable growth.