Retail giant Wal-Mart plans to nearly double its outlets in China by the end of 2006, a senior official at the company said today (Monday), according to the Dow Jones news agency.

Lawrence Lee, regional operations director of China’s east region for Wal-Mart (China) Investment Co., said the company plans to have a total of 90 outlets in China by the end of next year.

Wal-Mart now has 48 stores around China, including one in Shanghai’s Pudong area, which will open on Thursday.

Wal-Mart’s ambitious plan highlights the intensifying competition in China’s retail sector, which the country fully opened to foreign players in late 2004 under its commitment to the World Trade Organization.

The store in Shanghai is owned by Wal-Mart East China Stores Co., a 65-35 joint venture between a Wal-Mart unit and China’s CITIC Group. The venture also operates a store in Nanjing.

Wal-Mart has no plan to have fully-owned operations in China, Lee said Monday.

“Our partners help us in terms of government relations,” said John Liu, senior corporate affairs management of Wal-Mart East China Stores.