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Tuesday, 6 August, 2002, 08:09 GMT 09:09 UK
Chinese net use booming
Chinese women use internet phone booth
China overtakes other nations in web popularity
China is stealing a technological march on its neighbours as it overtakes Japan to become the second largest web audience in the world behind the United States.

But this enthusiasm for the net could prove a double-edged sword for the Chinese Government, keen to see increased liberalism in its trade with the rest of the world but equally determined to keep strict control on the flow of information to its own citizens.


People have more disposal income and IT is thriving in China where many manufacturers are outsourcing labour because of the low cost of wages

Andrew Brown, IDC
"China is treading a fine line between advancing its economy and maintaining political control," said IDC analyst David Emberley.

"Because the internet is a powerful communication medium and China's Government maintains a strong control on the spread of information, China's Government sees clearly both how the internet can help China develop into a modern state and how it can disrupt the current political system."

According to data compiled by US internet measurement firm StatMarket, China now has 6% of internet users worldwide which puts it second only to the US which has a whopping 43% of the worldwide net audience.

Millions of surfers

The figures reflect a steadily growing net audience in the Far East. China in particular has been experiencing an economic boom which is credited with the new-found interest in the world wide web.

"We're seeing China and other countries grow into significant players on the web," said Geoff Johnston, Vice President of StatMarket.

This view is endorsed by China's official net body, the China Internet Network Information Centre. In a recent report, it found that there are now around 56 million users in China with a surge of 12 million coming online in the first six months of this year.

That represents a penetration rate of about 5% of homes in China. It is estimated that, at the current rate of growth, 25% of the Chinese population will be online by 2006 which would increase the global internet population by a staggering 257 million people.

China's love affair with the net has pushed European competitors down the league table. At the beginning of 2001, Germany held second place, followed by Canada.

Both the UK and Canada have now overtaken Germany but still lag behind Japan and China.

State control

For Chinese surfers the world wide web is proving an irresistible draw although users are more likely to visit foreign websites due to the lack of home-grown content.

They are also more likely to access the internet from home rather than at internet cafes or work.

The typical users would be an urban male aged between 16 and 34.

There is still considerable pressure from the Chinese Government to make sure local websites do not express dissent and to control what surfers can access via internet cafes.

The official cyber-cafes have software installed on the PCs which restricts access to foreign websites.

And at home, users can only log on via three ISPs, all of which have tight controls on what information they can show on their portals.

The restrictions do not seem to be putting the public off and the popularity in surfing has sparked a parallel explosion in the number of PCs in Chinese homes.

According to analyst firm IDC the Chinese PC market is growing in multiples of two, from 50% growth in 2000 to 124% growth in 2001.

Apart from the obvious size of the population, IDC analyst Andrew Brown thinks the economic boom China is enjoying is the most important factor fuelling the demand for electronic goods.

"People have more disposal income and information technology is thriving in China where many manufacturers are outsourcing labour because of the low cost of wages," he said.

See also:

23 Jul 02 | Business
08 Jul 02 | Business
28 Jun 02 | Asia-Pacific
06 Jun 02 | Business
05 Jun 02 | Asia-Pacific
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