Two top China Wal-Mart executives quit

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Two top executives have quit Wal-Mart Stores Inc's <WMT.N> China business, leaving a leadership vacuum in country earmarked as having strategic importance for the U.S. retailer.

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Chief Financial Officer Roland Lawrence and Chief Operating Officer Rob Cissell for Wal-Mart in China have resigned "to explore other opportunities," the company said in a statement.

The company did not name replacements for the two men, both senior vice-presidents.

Wal-Mart is trying to expand its footprint in China to capture consumption from the country's booming middle class.

Earlier in May, Wal-Mart announced plans to buy a minority stake in Chinese e-commerce company Yihaodian, giving the world's largest retailer a stronger foothold online and in the fast-growing China retail market.

The firm also invested in China's top online seller of consumer electronics and communications products, 360buy, in late 2010.

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One analyst said the departures could cause some concern.

"The psychological impact (of the departure of the executives) is seen to be larger than the material as employees of its China operation may see an unstable top management team," said Shanghai-based retail analyst Marie Jiang with Pacific Epoch.

But another foresaw little impact on the day-to-day operations of the firm's China business and that strategically, the country is too vital to Wal-Mart to be left to fail.

"The CFO and COO leaving there obviously will be an interruption but I don't think it has a big impact," said Torsten Stocker, a China retail analyst with Monitor Group.

"Overall they have a deep enough talent pool to fill the gaps relatively quickly," Hong Kong-based Stocker said.

Wal-Mart competes with France's Carrefour <CARR.PA> and Britain's Tesco <TSCO.L> in China's highly fragmented supermarket industry.

Wal-Mart entered China in August 1996. It now has 333 stores there, including 104 stores operated by Trust-Mart. Wal-Mart bought a 35 percent stake in Trust-Mart in 2007.

(Reporting by Brad Dorfman, Melanie Lee in SHANGHAI and Donny Kwok in HONG KONG; Editing by Andrew Callus; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

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