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Originally published July 14, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 14, 2007 at 7:16 AM

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Starbucks exits the Forbidden City

Starbucks closed its store in Beijing's Forbidden City on Friday after months of controversy over the U.S. coffee-shop chain doing business...

Seattle Times business reporter

Starbucks closed its store in Beijing's Forbidden City on Friday after months of controversy over the U.S. coffee-shop chain doing business there.

The decision followed the Forbidden City's announcement that it wants to operate all stores inside the former imperial palace, which is now a museum.

"[W]e have respectfully decided to end our lease agreement," the Seattle coffee chain said.

Wang Jinlong, president of Starbucks Greater China, said in a written statement: "We fully respect the decision of Forbidden City to transition to a new mode of concessions service to its museum visitors."

Starbucks has more than 250 stores in China. In most foreign countries, Starbucks lets a corporate partner run its shops. In China, where the potential for growth and profitability are enormous, many Starbucks stores are operated by company executives who live and work in the country.

The chain opened its Forbidden City store in 2000 at the invitation of managers at nearly 600-year-old complex that sits in the heart of Beijing and is one of the most popular tourist sites in the world.

Last year, Chinese TV personality Rui Chenggang began a crusade against the store, saying it marred the solemnity of the Forbidden City and undermined Chinese culture.

Word of his campaign, which he waged primarily on a blog, became front-page news in China in January and rapidly spread around the world. Thousands of people responded on Rui's blog, many calling for Starbucks to leave the historic site.

The issue seemed to have dissipated until this week, when Starbucks closed the store after learning from the Forbidden City that it wants to manage all stores inside the complex itself.

Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com

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