The Home Depot (HD) is expanding into China with the hope of one day becoming the largest home improvement store chain in Asia and rivaling the success it has had in the United States, company officials said Monday.

The Atlanta-based retailer would not say how many stores it plans for China or when its first store there will open, but it named Bill E. Patterson to the newly created position of Home Depot president of Asia.

Patterson will lead the company's expansion into China, one of the largest and fastest growing markets in the world, Home Depot said. In a telephone interview with The Associated Press, Patterson said the company has big plans for China.

"Anything The Home Depot takes on we will do with the same intensity," Patterson said. "I think anybody's goal would certainly like to be the biggest player."

China, with a huge population and gross domestic product, offers Home Depot a chance to tap into a nearly $50 billion home improvement market. The market there is currently fragmented, with several players with only a few dozen stores each. Germany's OBI (search) is among the major home improvement retailers there now.

Home Depot has been talking for months about the possibility of expanding beyond North America. Currently, it has 1,740 stores in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

"We have studied China for some time," Patterson said. "It's got a great capability in terms of a growing economy."

He added, "We think it's the right time for us to assess those opportunities we see."

Home Depot currently has about 50 employees working in China.

Patterson, who has served as president of the company's Central Division since 2002, joined The Home Depot in 1999.

The Home Depot is the largest home improvement store chain in the U.S., with $64.82 billion in sales last year.

Shares of Home Depot gained 37 cents to trade at $35.70 on the New York Stock Exchange (search).