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China’s online population exceeds 700 million, with more than one in two using Web

The number of web users in China – already the world’s largest online population – has reached more than 700 million, authorities recently announced as they seek to turn the internet into a driver of new growth.

The country had 710 million internet users – defined as those who have gone online at least once in the past six months – by June, up 3.1 per cent from the end of December, the government-linked China Internet Network Information Centre (CNNIC) said in a statement.

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The number is more than double the population of the US and means more than half of the world’s most populous nation are now using the internet.

Beijing imposes strict controls on online content, while e-commerce is a vital part of its efforts to transform the economy into one driven more by consumer demand.

The government is pushing for a so-called “internet plus” project that aims to expand the application of online technology in industry as part of attempts to modernise.

The CNNIC said that 92.5 per cent of Chinese users go online through their mobile phones.

“The social lifestyle formed by the mobile internet was further developed and the Internet Plus project facilitated the government and companies diversifying and mobilising their services,” it said.

But the number of rural users remains low – accounting for less than a third of the total – as residents in the countryside either have no knowledge of computers or the internet, or are not interested, said the CNNIC.

Several Chinese tech firms, such as Jack Ma’s Alibaba, have become multibillion-dollar giants in recent years as the country’s online population has boomed. (Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post.)

At the same time Beijing blocks websites it deems politically sensitive in a system dubbed the “Great Firewall of China”, and social media companies censor user-generated content.

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