Weeks after Tesco announced it was scaling back its plans for growth in China, the retailer has dispatched its UK property director Steve Rigby to seek out opportunities for leaseholds and acquisitions in the country.

Rigby’s new role as chief property officer for China comes after Tesco revealed it would be taking a “more cautious stance” over its plans to roll out hypermarkets there. It entered China in 2004 and currently has 124 stores.

Most recently, Rigby has been focusing on helping Tesco expand its network of c-stores in the UK, suggesting the smaller format could be the focus of its Chinese ambitions in the short term. Tesco opened its first Express store in China in February 2008.

Echo Lu, executive vice president for Tesco’s China support office, moves in the opposite direction to become property director for the UK.

Formerly operations director of Tesco’s east region in China, Lu replaced David Hobbs at its Chinese operation last year when he returned to the UK as operations director for its support office.

Insiders said the move would allow Lu to build up valuable experience of the UK, while Rigby’s UK track record made him the “perfect man” to find opportunities in China.

Meanwhile, CEO Philip Clarke has stepped up his search for a UK commercial director following the departure of UK CEO Richard Brasher earlier this year. He is reported to be working with global headhunter Zygos to find the right candidate.

Tesco also confirmed the retirement this week of corporate and legal affairs director Dame Lucy Neville-Rolfe. Dame Lucy will leave in January next year. Her role will be split between Adrian Morris, who joins from BP as group general counsel on 3 September, and Rebecca Shelley, who will take responsibility for corporate affairs.