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With China's growth at an expected 6.7% in the second quarter of 2018, its slowest pace since 2016, the world’s second-largest economy has slowed down amid a fiercely spiralling trade war. In addition, China’s National Development and Reform Commission's tightened curbs on capital outflows and increased scrutiny on foreign acquisitions have led to a reduction in global outbound investment.

Nonetheless, the Belt & Road initiative, which aims to improve regional cooperation and connectivity between Eurasian countries, remains the most significant economic strategy that China's president, Xi Jingping, has spearheaded; approximately $1.2trn is projected to be invested into infrastructure projects along the Belt & Road route.

Notable legal market developments include Anglo-Australian firm Ashurst's launch of a formal tie-up with Chinese firm Guantao Law Firm through a joint operation office in the Shanghai Free Trade Zone; consequently Ashurst became the fourth global player to gain Chinese law access through the scheme, which was approved in 2014. Following hot on Ashurst's heels, Linklaters became the fifth international firm to launch a joint operation, through its cooperation with Chinese law firm Zhao Sheng Law Firm. Meanwhile, Mayer Brown's association with PRC firm Jingtian & Gongcheng ended in 2018, with the two firms instead entering into a global cooperation agreement.

In other news, Beijing continues to welcome new entrants. Cooley LLP recently opened a Beijing office, hiring  Xun Zeng from Ropes & Gray LLP; this marked the firm's second office in China, further to its 2011 Shanghai launch. UK-based Stephenson Harwood also bulked up its China practice with the acquisition of Atlanta-based Troutman Sanders’ Beijing office, which in January 2018 announced the closure of its Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai offices.

High-profile partner moves from international law firms to ever-growing domestic legal practices continue to gather momentum; examples include Linklaters’ former managing partner for China, Jian Fang, exiting for Fangda Partners. Others are moving in-house; Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP’s former Beijing partner Shaolin Luo joined private equity client YunFeng Capital as general counsel.

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