This article aims at making a preliminary assessment of China in the World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute settlement system from an international socialization perspective. When China joined the WTO in November 2001, it was not clear how China would behave in the WTO dispute settlement. At first, China proved to be a conciliatory defendant and reluctant complainant. Recently, however, China’s profile in dispute settlement has shifted to a more proactive one, leading some observers to label its behaviour ‘aggressive’.
I argue that China’s behaviour should be viewed in a different light. From totally rejecting international third party adjudication in the past, China – by permitting WTO panels to determine its fate in trade disputes – has started to exhibit new willingness to accept binding international adjudication. In this context, China is demonstrating respect for international rules as well as its faith in western legal norms and institutions. Through more intense participation in WTO dispute settlement, China is also becoming increasingly vested in the maintenance of WTO norms and rules, and consequently, the WTO dispute settlement system is playing an important role in socializing China.Journal of World Trade