After more than 20 years, the Internet in China has become a big success. The country has the world's largest Internet population that topped 420 million at the end of June. In the first six months of this year, China's Internet market reached 74.3 billion yuan ($10.9 billion), the equivalent of 2009's total. Local businesses have risen to leaders on the Chinese market, as Chinese language search, instant messaging and online auction service providers have overwhelming advantages over foreign rivals.
More importantly, the rapid development of the Internet has given a strong push to overall social progress, the rule of law in particular. Whenever, and wherever, there are events bearing on China's national interests, the government can immediately learn responses of all walks of life via online opinion platforms. The Internet has become a major channel for ordinary people to supervise the government and promote the improvement of its operation.
However, challenges to China's Internet are still tough.
Despite its huge number of netizens, China's penetration rate of the Internet, 31.8 percent at the end of June, lags far behind advanced countries in this regard such as the United States, Japan and South Korea, though it is a bit higher than the world's average level. In a white paper issued in June, the Chinese Government pledged to raise the Internet's penetration to 45 percent within five years. This move will greatly boost the long-term development of the country.
Among the nearly 70 percent of Chinese citizens who are still living offline, some do not have the required savvy, for example, poor-educated seniors. But for most of them, especially those in less developed rural areas, the reason is as simple as they are inaccessible to the Internet. Statistics released by the China Internet Network Information Center show, the Internet's penetration rate in China's urban areas was 44.6 percent at the end of last year, compared to 15 percent in rural areas. Worse still, their difference expanded, instead of narrowing, in recent years, which was 20.2 percentages points in 2007, 23.5 percentage points in 2008 and 29.6 percentage points in 2009. This growing "digital divide" implies the risk for the countryside to be marginalized in the informationization process of Chinese society.
Information creates wealth. The Internet, as the most convenient tool to disseminate and collect information, can play an irreplaceable role in eliminating poverty, both material and cultural. So providing Internet access is an important part of the efforts to guarantee people's right to subsistence and development. This is the significance of the Internet's dynamic development in China and also its strongest impetus.