China Internet users soar to 298 million

Customers use computers inside an Internet cafe in Shanghai January 5, 2009. REUTERS/Aly Song

BEIJING (Reuters) - The number of Internet users in China jumped nearly 42 percent to 298 million by the end of 2008 from the previous year, cementing the country’s position as the world’s largest Internet population, the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) said.

The number of mobile Web surfers surged 113 percent to 117.6 million in 2008 and mobile Internet is expected to grow explosively in the next few years after the recent issuance of third-generation (3G) licenses, the state-run agency said.

The Internet penetration rate in China has risen to 22.6 percent, slightly higher than the world’s average of 21.9 percent, CNNIC said in a report on Tuesday.

In addition, the number of Internet news readers has risen to 2.34 million and websites have become a crucial area for publicity, the report said.

News portals in China, such as Sina Corp and Inc, are the major sources of information for a large number of Internet users across the country.

Wary of threats to its grip on information, Beijing launched a crackdown on “vulgar” Web content this month after conducting numerous censorship efforts targeting pornography, political criticism and web scams in the past.

Reporting by Michael Wei; Editing by Anshuman Daga