US retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc. plans to open 12 to 15 new stores in China this year according to the president of its international business, reports the Xinhua news agency.

The world's largest retailer opened its 46th store in China on Wednesday. "Our goal is to open 12 to 15 units this year," John Menzer told reporters as crowds flooded the opening of the Beijing store. Wal-Mart bought US$18 bn worth of goods from China last year.

Wal-Mart posted a 31% jump in its China sales last year to 7.6 billion yuan (US$918 million), with its number of stores rising 30 percent, China's Ministry of Commerce said.

 By comparison, China sales of French competitor Carrefour rose nearly a fifth to 16.2 billion yuan, while its number of stores surged 51% to 62. Carrefour said it aimed to open 15 supermarkets a year in China.

Despite the expansion of the global retail giants, China's US$240 billion retail market, Asia's second-largest after Japan, is dominated by local firms such as Wumart Stores and Bailian Group, also know as Brilliance.

China sales made up just one-third of 1% of Wal-Mart's total global sales of US$285bn last year, while China contributed about 1.5% of Carrefour's 2004 sales of €81.4 bn euros (US$102.56m).