Mr. Price said the Trump administration had done a good job of cataloging China’s abuses: theft of intellectual property, forced transfer of technology from foreign companies, predatory joint venture agreements. But it has failed to marshal a coalition to confront China, instead provoking separate trade fights with the European Union, Japan, Canada and Mexico by imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum and threatening additional taxes on imported cars.
“Doing this without the E.U. and Japan fully on board as though Chinese unfair trade practices were only a bilateral problem is wrongheaded and certainly less effective,” he said. “But it’s very hard to galvanize your allies when you impose steel and aluminum tariffs on them and threaten auto tariffs.”
For China, a complicating factor is figuring out who has influence in Mr. Trump’s White House. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who has been leading the negotiations, invited China’s top trade negotiator, Liu He, to Washington for a meeting next week, even though his last visit ended badly when Mr. Trump spurned a deal that would have cut the American trade deficit with China.
Mr. Mnuchin believes the United States must be open to talks as long as China is willing to address structural issues, including the trade gap between what America exports and what it imports, pressure on American companies to hand over valuable technology as a condition for doing business in China and intellectual property theft.
Other senior officials, notably Peter Navarro, who oversees the office of trade and manufacturing policy, have told colleagues that inviting the Chinese now was a sign of weakness. Mr. Navarro, an economist who made his name with book titles like “Death by China,” is among those who favor putting more pressure on China to force a change in its behavior.
His office produced a compendious report in June called, “How China’s Economic Aggression Threatens the Technologies and Intellectual Property of the United States and the World.” In early May, he and Mr. Mnuchin clashed openly during a visit to Beijing after Mr. Mnuchin excluded him and other American officials from a private meeting with Mr. Liu.