China's booming Internet population has surpassed the number of U.S. users to become the world's biggest, with 253 million people online despite government controls on Web use, according to government data reported Friday.
The latest figure on Web use at the end of June is a 56 percent increase over the same time last year, the China Internet Network Information Center said. It said the share of the Chinese public using the Internet is still just 19.1 percent, leaving more room for rapid growth.
The U.S. had an estimated 223.1 million Internet users in June, according to Nielsen Online, a research firm. The Pew Internet and American Life Project puts U.S. online penetration at 71 percent.
The communist government encourages Internet use for business and education but tries to block access to Web sites deemed pornographic or subversive. Web surfers have been jailed for posting or e-mailing material that criticizes communist rule or is deemed a violation of vague national security laws.
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Beijing blocks access to Web sites run by dissidents, human rights groups and some foreign news media.
Web surfers were blocked from seeing Google's YouTube and other foreign sites with video of anti-government protests in Tibet in March.
In financial terms, China's market lags those of the United States, South Korea and other economies. But online commerce, video sharing and other businesses are growing rapidly and have raised millions of dollars from investors.