As relations between the United States and China have spiraled dangerously downward in recent years, talk of decoupling the world’s two largest economies has grown louder. Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson warned in a November speech that global economic coordination is the only way to avoid future catastrophic financial crises, arguing that, if Washington and Beijing can’t get on the same page, the world is “heading for a very dangerous place.”

This uncertainty leaves U.S.-based law firms that have built up a presence in China wondering what the future has in store for them. Even before the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, firms including Davis Wright Tremaine, Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner and Troutman Sanders shuttered offices in mainland China in recent years. In 2020, McDermott Will & Emery ended ties with its Chinese affiliate, while Locke Lord and Vinson & Elkins pulled out of Hong Kong, marking an end to both firms’ physical presence in greater China. And in December, Baker Botts withdrew from Hong Kong, closing the curtains on 16 years in Asia after pulling out of Beijing a year earlier.