Global coffee chain Starbucks plans a major expansion in China by opening thousands of stores while eyeing the promising Indian and Vietnamese markets.

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz told the Wall Street Journal that China will overtake Japan as its biggest market outside North America.

“Asia clearly represents the most significant growth opportunity,” he told the US newspaper during a visit to Tokyo on Wednesday. “Over time there will be thousands of stores in China.

“India and Vietnam are two markets we’d like to get to at some point. We are still at the embryonic stages of what Asia will be for the company.”

According to Starbucks’ website, the company opened its first store in mainland China in 1999, and it now has more than 230 in 22 cities. It has nearly 500 in greater China, which includes Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau.

Schultz is visiting Japan to promote Starbucks’ “VIA” line of instant coffee.

He told the Nikkei business daily that he wants to expand Starbucks’ joint development projects with Japanese beverage giant Suntory, which is now selling packaged coffee drinks at convenience stores.

“We have several joint research projects of new products,” he was quoted as telling the Japanese newspaper, hinting at a possible launch of bottled products.

Starbucks remained bullish about expanding in Japan, where it has 870 stores, despite tough competition. Schultz said the company was still at “the early stage” of building a store network in Japan and sees further room for growth there, according to Nikkei.

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