What Trump has done is not “reset” Washington’s relations with China but put them on an entirely new footing. Up to now, Beijing has kept the initiative, and American presidents, especially George W. Bush and Obama, have merely reacted, trying to build friendly relations in spite of increasingly bold Chinese moves. The concept was that Washington had to maintain cooperative ties, increasingly considered an end in itself.
Trump, by seemingly not caring about Beijing’s reaction, has cut China down to size, telling its autocrats he does not fear them.
Just about everyone assumed the Chinese would create a crisis for Trump in his first months in office, just as they created crises for both George W. Bush—in April 2001 with the detention of the crew of the U.S. Navy EP-3—and his successor—the harassment of the Navy’s unarmed reconnaissance vessels, the Impeccable and Victorious, in March and May 2009.
Instead, Trump took the initiative and created a crisis for China’s leaders, and he did that more than a month before taking the oath of office.