China Internet Users Grow 18 Percent to Hit 103 Million

The number of Web users in China, the world's second largest Internet market, grew by 9 million people in the first half of this year to hit

103 million, the China Daily said on Friday. The growth represented an increase of 18.4 percent over the same period last year in a market that still has vast potential for further growth, the report said, citing a survey released by the "quasi-governmental" China Internet Network Information Center on Thursday.

"While more than 67 percent of the U.S. population, about 135 million, have access to the Internet, in China the percentage is only about 7.9 percent," it said.

State media previously predicted 120 Chinese million would be surfing the Web by the end of the year as computers find their way into more homes and domestic telecoms networks grow.

Nearly 20 percent of China's Web surfers had shopped online, and Internet-based transactions in the six months of 2005 could total around 10 billion yuan ($1.23 billion), the newspaper said.

"Most of China's Internet users are well educated and have hefty purchasing power," analyst Lu Weigang was quoted as saying.

The burgeoning online gaming market proved especially lucrative, with Internet gamers spending 4 billion yuan on virtual equipment for their online alter-egos in the first six months, it said.

The Internet's explosive growth in China has come despite the government's stepped-up efforts to control of the medium, in which occasional pockets of free speech have appeared in chat sites and blogs.

Beijing pressures popular Web portals to block sensitive news and screen chatrooms for "politically sensitive" statements and regularly blocks access to some foreign Web pages. The government announced earlier this year that all China-based Web sites had to register by June 30 or face being declared illegal and shut down. ($1=8.11 Yuan)

Copyright 2005 Reuters Limited.

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