China’s state-run Xinhua news agency reports that China now claims to have the world’s largest Internet-using population, reaching a total of 221 million Internet users at the end of February. The figure would put China ahead of most estimates for the size of the U.S. Internet-using population, which currently settle around 220 million, although Nielsen/NetRatings says there were 221 million U.S. Internet users in March.
Xinhua cites figures from China’s Ministry of Information and the China Internet Network Information Center. China’s proportion of Internet users compared to the total population remains lower than the global average of 19.1 percent at the end of 2007, although the agency didn’t offer specific numbers. International estimates place roughly 16 percent of the Chinese population online. In comparison, roughly 75 percent of the U.S. population is online, according to figures from the Pew Internet & American Life project.
China is heavily promoting Internet use as a way to boost business, education, and commercial activity in the country, but also runs the world’s most elaborate Internet censorship operation, regularly blocking access to sites and services carrying material critical of the Chinese regime or news events like the recent protests in Tibet. China has jailed bloggers and journalists for posting and emailing material critical of the Chinese government or advocating democracy; it has sometimes done so using information obtained from Chinese operations of U.S. Internet companies like Yahoo.
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