China claims to equal US internet users

By some measures, China equals the US as the biggest online population. China's government reports that the number of internet users there has soared to 221 million, an Associated Press report said.

The report said the figure, reported by the Xinhua News Agency, reflects China's explosive growth in internet use despite the government's efforts to block access to material considered subversive or pornographic.

It was a 61% increase over the 137 million internet users reported at the start of 2007, although the report went on to say that numbers alone can be deceiving.

Nielsen Online estimates the US online population is 221 million, but only counts those with home or work access.

By contrast, a third of Chinese internet users surf at cybercafes.

Also, China's internet penetration is still low, with 16% of people online, compared with a world average of 19%, Xinhua said. The Pew Internet and American Life Project places US online penetration at 71%.

China still lags the US, South Korea and other markets in online commerce and other financial measures, though e-commerce, video sharing and other businesses are growing quickly, and companies have raised millions of dollars from investors, the report added.