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Tuesday, 23 July, 2002, 06:56 GMT 07:56 UK
China internet use grows
Chinese internet surfers
Police have cracked down on internet cafes
Internet use in China is growing fast, with the number of people logging on regularly up by more than a third in the first half this year, official figures show.

The number of internet users grew by 12 million to 45.8 million during the six months to the end of June, according to the China Internet Network Information Centre.

This compares with 7.2 million new internet users in the previous six months, giving a total of 33.7m at the end of last year.

China ranks number three in the world, with only the United States and Japan having more internet users, the report said.

Wealth gap

But internet users are concentrated in a few wealthy cities - 40% of net-surfers are in Beijing, or the coastal commercial centres of Shanghai or Guangdong.

Only 1% of China's on-line population lives in western China, an area of six poorer provinces which the central government is targeting for development in the hope of closing the country's growing income gap.

China has 16.1 million computers linked to the web, a 61% increase on a year ago, said CINIC.

China's authorities have recently cracked down on internet cafes, which the latest figures suggest remains one of the most popular ways of accessing the web.

The gap between the number of surfers and the number of PCs online means most people are accessing the internet from colleges, workplaces or internet cafes.

Restrictions

Nearly half of China's internet users are under 24 years old, the report said.

China said last month it would close about 150,000 unlicensed internet cafes nationwide, after 25 people were killed in a fire at one such cafe in Beijing in June.

The Ministry of Culture said owners of unlicensed internet cafes would be prosecuted and safety checks stepped up.

Internet cafes are massively popular in China and many stay open 24 hours a day, but they have been at the centre of controversies over what young people are reading and whether they spend too much on line.

Foreign observers say political content in on-line chat-rooms has also alarmed the authorities, notably after 11 September 2001, when some young people hailed the attack on New York's Twin Towers, recalling the US bombing of China's Belgrade embassy.

Spy software

There are already restrictions on which foreign websites can be accessed.

Beijing also plans to order licensed net cafés to install software which can prevent access to up to 500,000 foreign websites.

The software would tell police when surfers try to access illicit pages, the Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said earlier this month.

It said cafes must also register the identity of their customers.

See also:

08 Jul 02 | Business
05 Jul 02 | Asia-Pacific
28 Jun 02 | Asia-Pacific
06 Jun 02 | Business
05 Jun 02 | Asia-Pacific
19 Jun 02 | Asia-Pacific
11 Feb 02 | Science/Nature
26 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
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