Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) plans to hire up to 150,000 employees in China over the next five years, five times its current work force there, as it expands its number of stores, the company said Monday.

Wal-Mart has targeted China, which has long been a major supplier of its products, as a key region for its international store growth. It now has 56 stores in China with about 30,000 employees and plans to open 20 more stores this year.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Amy Wyatt declined to say how many stores the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer will add longer term. Wal-Mart generally only makes public projections one year at a time for its new store plans in the U.S. and internationally.

"We could hire as many as 150,000 (new employees) in the next five years," Wyatt said.

The news comes less than a week after Wal-Mart moved to expand in another fast-growing region, Central America, by taking a majority stake in a local retail chain that it first bought into last September. Wal-Mart took over Central American Retail Holding Co., also known as CARHCO, for an undisclosed price.

Wal-Mart shares rose 94 cents, or 2 percent, to $47.63 in morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Its shares have traded in a 52-week range of $42.33 ro $51.76.