Starbucks, the world's largest coffee-shop chain, said yesterday it bought 90 per cent of the operator of its Beijing and Tianjin stores for an undisclosed sum in a move to cement control over business in what the company calls its most important market outside the United States. It bought the stake in Beijing Mei Da Coffee, which runs 62 Starbucks stores in northern China's two biggest cities, from Taiwanese private equity fund H&Q Asia Pacific and other shareholders. 'You can tell from the smiles on all our faces that this is a very satisfactory deal for all of us,' Wang Jinlong, the president of Starbucks Greater China, said in a press conference in Beijing yesterday. State-owned food and beverage company Beijing Sanyuan owns the remaining 10 per cent of Mei Da. Starbucks is just the latest multinational retailer to gain full control over its mainland business since China lifted restrictions on foreign ownership in retailing at the beginning of last year. 'We strongly believe in joint-venture licensing arrangements in new markets and eventually buying back equity,' said Martin Coles, the president of Starbucks International. Since H&Q opened China's first Starbucks in 1999 in Beijing, the chain has grown to 190 stores in 19 cities. The company has been rapidly building wholly owned stores and buying out licensed operations. Taiwanese food giant Uni-President has operational control over the 100 or so Starbucks stores in eastern China but the Seattle-based chain has majority ownership and operational control over its southern China operations through a joint venture with Hong Kong catering conglomerate Maxim's. Eventually, the company will buy back all its operations but has no plans to do so in the near future, Mr Coles said. 'There is a Chinese saying that no feast can last forever and as our private equity funds have a 10-year lifespan, after almost eight years it's time to say goodbye,' H&Q chairman Hsu Ta-lin said yesterday. Starbucks, which had 12,440 stores worldwide as of October 1, plans to increase that number to 40,000, half of them outside the US and with China as the main market. 'No market to date potentially has the opportunity for us that China ultimately will have,' Starbucks chairman Howard Schulz said in an interview in February.