Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - With 253 million internet users registered at the end of June, China has surpassed the United States as the largest online community in the world, as the China Internet Network Information Centre announced yesterday. But censorship of "unwelcome" news is also growing.
Since June 30, 2007, there have been 91 million new users, a growth of 56%. 84.6% of these, or 214 million people, have high speed broadband connections. There are 12.19 million websites registered with the domain "cn", for "China".
The increase is in part due to the rapidity and relative freedom of information on the internet, both on some websites and in the forums. Events like the snowstorms in January and February, the earthquake in Sichuan in May, and the voyage of the Olympic torch were followed by millions of people through the internet, where they received news that was often not provided by the rigidly controlled Chinese media: 81.5% of Internet users, or 206 million people, read news online, compared to 71% in the United States and 67.1% in South Korea.
Liu Bing, director of research and development at the center, observes that the internet is becoming "the most influential mainstream medium with the biggest development potential", and emphasizes the low cost and the increasing demand in the countryside, and also the use of the internet for entertainment, for example to listen to music. He expects 285 million users by the end of 2008. The strong growth is significant in part because Beijing is encouraging the use of the internet for business and education purposes, but is trying to block access to sites that it considers "subversive" (these are often the sites that deal with human rights, and many foreign sites) or that provide pornography. Dozens of people have been arrested for posting to the internet articles or e-mails that are critical of the government, or "dangerous to national security". In March, access was blocked to the photos of the protests in Tibet posted on YouTube.
The internet is also used to exchange information and opinions, through forums, on issues of current affairs that the media and even websites themselves largely ignore: like episodes of misgovernment and injustice, which have repeatedly provoked fiery protests by tens of thousands of internet users in a few days.
Online shopping is also very widespread: in the first quarter of 2008, the Chinese website Baidu.com had a profit of 265 million yuan (26.5 million euros), an increase of 87%.