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UPDATED: June 9, 2010
Full Text: The Internet in China


I. Endeavors to Spur the Development and Application of the Internet

China's government and people warmly greeted the advent of the Internet era. In the mid- and late-1980s, Chinese researchers and scholars began to explore the use of the Internet with the assistance of overseas colleagues. At both the 1992 and the 1993 INET annual conferences, Chinese computer specialists called for Internet access for the Chinese public as a whole, which received support from their overseas colleagues. During the Sino-U.S. Joint Committee of Science and Technology meeting held in Washington in April 1994, the Chinese representatives reached a consensus with the U.S. National Academy of Sciences on China's access to the Internet. On April 20 a pilot network to serve education and scientific research was linked to the Internet via the 64K special line in Beijing's Zhongguancun district. This full-function connection marked China's formal access to the Internet.

China takes Internet development as a significant opportunity to boost its reform and opening-up policies and modernization drive. The government has worked out a series of policies for Internet development, defining the phased priorities to boost IT application across the country.

In 1993 the State Economic Informationization Joint Meeting was initiated to lead the construction of a national network of public economic information. In 1997 the Ninth Five-Year Plan for State Informationization and the Long-range Objective of the Year 2010 was formulated, which listed the Internet as part of the state information infrastructure, and set the goal of pushing forward national economic informationization by vigorous development of the Internet industry. In 2002 the Specialized Plan for Informationization in the Tenth Five-Year Plan for National Economic and Social Development was promulgated, which defined China's priorities in this regard, including promotion of e-government, vigorous development of software industry, strengthening of development and utilization of information resources, and acceleration of the development of e-commerce. In November 2002 the 16th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) set the goal of "using IT to propel industrialization, which will in turn stimulate IT application, blazing a new trail to industrialization." In November 2005 the State Informationization Strategy (2006-2020) was formulated, which further clarified the priorities of Internet development as promoting national economic informationization while adjusting the economic structure and transforming the patterns of economic growth; building e-government while enhancing the capability of governance; and spurring the informationization of social services while building a harmonious society.

In March 2006 the National People's Congress (NPC) reviewed and adopted the Outline of the 11th Five-Year Plan for National Economic and Social Development, which envisaged the speeding up of the integration of the networks of telecommunication, radio, television and the Internet, to build the next-generation Internet and accelerate its commercial application. In April 2007 the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee decided to build up a cyber culture industry and the production of relevant facilities. In October 2007 the 17th National Congress of the CPC developed the strategy of "developing a modern industrial system, integrating IT application with industrialization, and turning scale-oriented industries into strength-oriented industries." In January 2010 the State Council decided to accelerate the integration of the networks of telecommunication, radio, television and the Internet, so as to promote the development of the information and culture industries. Thanks to government support and definite policy guidance, the Internet has been led onto a track of comprehensive, sustained and rapid development in China.

China has injected enormous sums of money into Internet infrastructure construction. From 1997 to 2009 a total of 4.3 trillion yuan was invested in this regard, building a nationwide optical communication network with a total length of 8.267 million km. Of that, 840,000 km was long-distance optical cables. By the end of 2009 Chinese basic telecommunications companies had 136 million broadband Internet access ports, and international outlet bandwidth was 866,367 Mbps, with seven land-submarine cables and 20 land cables, that had a combined capacity exceeding 1,600 Gb. That ensured Internet access to 99.3% of Chinese towns and 91.5% of villages, and broadband to 96.0% of the towns. In January 2009 the government began to issue third-generation (3G) licenses to mobile service suppliers. Today, 3G network covers almost the whole country. Along with the swift expansion of the mobile Internet, more people will benefit from this technical advance.

The construction and improvement of the Internet infrastructure has beefed up the spread and application of the Internet. By the end of 2009 the number of Chinese netizens had reached 384 million, 618 times that of 1997 and an annual increase of 31.95 million users. In addition, the Internet had reached 28.9% of the total population, higher than the world average. At the same time, there were 3.23 million websites running in China, which was 2,152 times that of 1997. The number of IPv4 addresses approached 230 million, making China the second-largest owner in the world. Of all the netizens, 346 million used broadband and 233 million used mobile phones to access the Internet. They had moved on from dialing the access numbers to broadband and mobile phones. These statistics make China among the top of the developing countries in developing and popularizing the Internet.

The Chinese government vigorously supports the R&D of the next-generation Internet, beginning in the late 1990s, when it launched the "Next-Generation High Credibility Network" and relevant technological projects. In 2001 the first NFCNET was completed in Beijing. In 2003 the China Next-Generation Internet (CNGI) began, signaling the start of a massive R&D program in China and the construction of the next-generation Internet. So far, it has built the world largest IPv6 demonstration network, which uses world-level technologies such as IPv6 router technology with small and medium capacity, true IPv6 source address validation technology, and next-generation Internet transition technology. The technical proposals China raised regarding domain names internationalization, IPv6 source address validation, and IPv4-IPv6 transition technology have been accepted by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), and incorporated into the Internet international standards and protocol.

However, Internet development and application in China is imbalanced regionally, and between urban and rural areas. Hindered by different levels of economic development, education and informationization progress, the Internet has been developing more rapidly in the eastern than in the western parts of the country, and has a higher popularization rate in cities than in the countryside. By the end of 2009 it had reached 40% of the population in eastern China but only 21.5% in western China; and urban Internet users made up 72.2% of the national total, leaving the other 27.8% in rural areas. China still needs to make arduous efforts to bridge the "digital gap" between different regions and between the urban and rural areas.

The Internet in China has been developing along with the country's reform and opening-up. It conforms to the requirements and promotes the progress of China's reform and opening-up. As China's economy and society continue to make swift progress, and people's demands for cultural products keep increasing, the Internet will reach more people, who in turn will make higher demands on it. The Chinese government is determined to further promote Internet development and application, and raise its accessibility to 45% of the population in the coming five years, so that more people can benefit from the Internet.

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