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A Silicon Valley law firm that has represented global technology groups for decades is exploring opening a Singapore office, its first in Asia outside of greater China as geopolitical and regulatory hurdles force the firm to consider new markets.
Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati is exploring a move into Singapore as the number of US companies doing tech deals and work in China has collapsed due to deteriorating relations between Beijing and Washington, according to three people with knowledge of the situation.
Chinese president Xi Jinping’s regulatory crackdown on the tech sector has slowed dealmaking and pushed many Chinese investors and companies to expand in Singapore, said another person who had spoken to China-based employees at the law firm.
Larry Sonsini, senior partner and founder at Wilson Sonsini, told the Financial Times the firm was considering opening an office in Singapore, but said a final decision had not yet been made. It was “too early” to comment on the details, he said.
“They are following the money. It makes sense to have a presence here [in Singapore],” one of the people said, who added that the plan was still subject to change. Wilson Sonsini, which has represented technology groups including Microsoft and Facebook, could relocate some employees from the greater China practice, the person added.
Singapore, a neutral financial hub, has been a beneficiary of the capital shift away from China to other parts of Asia, especially south-east Asia. Several China-focused investors have recently expanded or opened offices in the city-state, including private equity firms Hillhouse, PAG and Boyu Capital and venture capital groups GGV and HongShan, formerly Sequoia Capital China. Both HongShan and Boyu have been Wilson Sonsini clients.
One of the oldest and respected technology law firms in Silicon Valley, Wilson Sonsini first established its China practice in 2007 with an office in Shanghai, betting early on the country’s fast-growing start-ups and advising US companies. It built out its Chinese practice with offices in Hong Kong and Beijing several years later.
The firm’s Singapore talks come as Washington’s technology battle with Beijing has made cross-border investments more difficult, with Chinese deal activity in the US falling to its lowest level in 17 years in 2023, according to data from Dealogic. The Biden administration in August said it would ban some US investment into China’s quantum computing, advanced chips and artificial intelligence sectors.
International funding for Chinese start-ups has also dried up as a result of a slowdown in the mainland economy and an uncertain domestic regulatory outlook.
Wilson Sonsini has helped US companies to do mainland deals and has also assisted China-based clients, including internet giant Tencent, chipmaker SMIC and dronemaker DJI, to make investments and acquisitions. Some Chinese clients, such as Tencent, have also expanded in Singapore since the pandemic to support their international growth.
The Silicon Valley firm already has relationships with key Singapore investors. It represented GIC, the Singaporean sovereign wealth fund, on its investment in payments processing company Stripe in March. It advised state investment company Temasek on its deal to lead a major investment in cultivated meat start-up Upside Foods in April last year.