Trump Trade Officials Will Present a Hard Line in China, but Internally They Are Divided

“We are deeply concerned that the proposed tariffs list and escalating tariff threats from the administration will not effectively advance our shared goal of changing these harmful Chinese practices,” he said.

Analysts continue to warn of potential risks to economic growth in the United States if administration officials cannot negotiate a quick resolution with the Chinese, and the tariffs go into effect. Analysts at Goldman Sachs said in a research note this week that new investment restrictions on China, which the administration plans to outline soon, could also rattle investors.

“Some additional market-disruptive policy moves regarding U.S.-China trade seem likely,” Goldman’s Alec Phillips wrote in the research note, which downplayed the odds of success in this week’s talks. “We believe a substantial breakthrough at this meeting is unlikely as the issues the U.S. has raised — intellectual property policies, technology transfer, and the ‘Made in China 2025’ strategy, in particular — are not the type of technical trade issues that can be resolved quickly.”

The National Association of Manufacturers, one of the most influential business lobbying groups in Washington, has been pressing Mr. Trump and his economic team to open negotiations with the Chinese on a free-trade agreement, an ambitious move that many trade experts doubt would bear fruit, given the past struggles of American negotiators who have tried to secure far more limited agreements with China.

Jay Timmons, the president of the manufacturers’ group, urged Mr. Trump in a letter this year to “consider pursuing a truly modern, innovative and comprehensive bilateral trade agreement with China that wholly restructures our economic relationship.” The group’s vice president for international economic affairs, Linda Menghetti Dempsey, told a congressional subcommittee in April that such an effort would be “at once both a radical idea and, in our estimation, the most pragmatic and effective way forward” on trade with China.

The Obama administration attempted to negotiate a more limited agreement with China, a bilateral investment treaty, but could not finalize the deal before Mr. Trump took office. His team has not yet revived the talks.

Manufacturers have discussed the plan directly with Mr. Kudlow and with Vice President Mike Pence. Proponents say they believe the idea could appeal to Mr. Trump’s preference for bilateral trade agreements and his confidence in his negotiation skills.

However, White House officials have given no public indication that they are considering such a negotiation. Mr. Lighthizer, Mr. Navarro and other proponents of a harder line against China have argued that the Chinese tend to use such dialogues as a delaying tactic, and that past trade negotiations with them have not been productive.