• World Trade Organization;
  • East Asian countries;
  • China;
  • Japan;
  • Korea;
  • dispute settlement;
  • passive legalism;
  • aggressive legalism

This article explores the distinctive features of East Asian countries' involvement in the World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute-settlement mechanism (DSM). Existing studies are divided into two opposing groups according to what they argue. The “passive legalism” argument emphasizes the reluctant attitude of East Asian countries, and tends to underestimate their involvement in the WTO DSM. On the other hand, the “aggressive legalism” argument highlights the drastic shift in East Asian countries' behavior from passive avoidance to aggressive utilization of the WTO DSM, and tends to overestimate East Asian countries' status in the system. Analyzing WTO dispute data, this article criticizes the limitations of both arguments and suggests responsive legalism or adaptive legalism as a more accurate concept for describing East Asian countries' legal attitude and behavior under the WTO DSM.