Fastfood company McDonald's has appointed a new new head of operations in China, according to the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper.

Guy Russo is to serve as international relationship partner for greater China, with responsibility for Hong Kong and Taiwan as well as the mainland, according to Anna Rozenich, a McDonald's spokeswoman. Russo was previously the chief executive of McDonald's Australia, a position he held for six years, the paper said.

McDonald's has made China a top priority for future growth, executives said at the annual shareholders' meeting last month. The burger chain has about 660 restaurants there. By the time of the Beijing Olympics in 2008, the golden arches will stand over 1,000 restaurants in China, if the company has its way.

"It's very important," said Scott Rothbort of LakeView Asset Management, a McDonald's shareholder. "They're looking ahead to the Olympics first of all to make an impression on the local economies."

Russo replaces Peter Tan, who stepped down for personal reasons, according to a spokeswoman.

McDonald's faces a challenge in China, where its profits have not grown as quickly as in the US.

"Our returns are in the double digits -- but not quite as high as McDonald's USA," Chief Financial Officer Matt Paull said last month.