Number of internet users in China hits 210m

China's internet population has soared to 210 million people, putting it on track to surpass the US online community this year to become the world's largest, an Associated Press report said.

The Associated Press report quoted official China internet Network Information Center, also known as CNNIC, as saying that the online population grew 53%, from 137 million reported at the same time last year.

According to the government's Xinhua News Agency, China is only 5 million behind the US, a figure consistent with some American estimates.

China still lags the US in many respects, however.

Xinhua placed China's online penetration rate at 16%, the point Americans were at in the mid-1990s.

According to the Pew internet and American Life Project, 75% of American adults are now online; penetration is even higher when teens are included. (China's stats cover Chinese 6 and older.)

Several other differences between the two markets mean internet penetration has different meaning in China and the US, the Associated Press report said.

First, cybercafes serve as the main entry to the internet for many Chinese unable to afford a computer at home. One-third of Chinese internet users surf through cybercafes, according to Xinhua, while Pew found that 93% of US internet users have access at home.