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UPDATED: September 7, 2010 NO. 36 SEPTEMBER 9, 2010
Bridging the Digital Divide
China matches some developed countries in information-based development, but needs to address its lack of core technologies

ONE-BUTTON DISTANCE: A Tibetan woman in Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan Province, talks over a mobile phone. Every 100 local residents have about 55 phones in the region (LIN YIGUANG)

Information-based development in China has exceeded the world's average level and matched that of moderately developed countries, said a blue paper released in Beijing on August 19, 2010.

The Advisory Committee for State Informatization (ACSI) and the Social Sciences Academic Press jointly polished the blue paper titled Analysis and Forecast on China's Informatization (2010).

"China's information-based development has been far exceeding expectations," said ACSI's Deputy Director Zhou Hongren.

The editing team, with Zhou as the editor-in-chief, consists of more than 100 officials, experts and scholars from relevant departments, associations and academies at central and local levels.

The digital divide between China and developed countries and that between China's cities and countryside has narrowed in the past decade, and the level of information-based development in some developed cities and regions has already matched that in developed countries, Zhou said.

Constantly connecting

China has made breakthroughs in some advanced information technology projects, including the development of the Dawning 5000A, a high-performance supercomputer; the rapid growth of microelectronics and integrated circuit industries; boosted software exports; and the movement of some homegrown products onto the global market, said the blue paper.

Information technologies have been widely applied to initiate big changes in China's primary, secondary and tertiary industries. The telecommunications, finance and civil aviation industries, in particular, have all become modern service sectors based on computing and microelectronic technologies, from which many emerging sub-industries have derived.

The information technology has also had a profound and unexpected impact on the development of agriculture and the countryside. Advanced agricultural information technologies and relevant equipment have been promoted and applied in China's vast countryside, allowing the country's farming population to have a taste of informatization. More than 99 percent of townships and 91.5 percent of villages in the country had Internet access as of the end of 2009.

Information technologies have developed remarkably in the manufacturing sector as well. Within the sector, every 100 employees owned about 22 computers in 2004, exceeding that in Italy and close to the average level in moderately developed countries. The same year, China already had the capacity of producing homegrown industrial robots, and established some robot R&D and production bases, said the blue paper.

The information industry reaped revenue of 6.3 trillion yuan ($926.5 billion) in 2008, growing more than 30 percent on average annually since 1978, and topped all other industries in China in terms of industrial scale, it said. Its industrial added value reached 1.49 trillion yuan ($219 billion), increasing 20 percent annually since 1978, and accounting for 5 percent of GDP in 2008, up from 0.8 percent in 1978.

The telecommunications sector has introduced a variety of value-added services, apart from offering traditional telephone services, and has developed into a modern, advanced service sector.

The information technologies applied in China's finance industry, securities and insurance sectors in particular, are close to the worldwide advanced level.

In addition, remarkable achievements were made in establishing government websites. By the end of 2009, China had launched 49,730 websites with .gov.cn domains, 153 times that in 1997. Progress was also made in promoting application of information technologies in education and scientific research—more than 2,000 universities, educational institutions, and research academies in more than 200 cities, with a user base of more than 20 million, were connected to the CERNET, the world's largest national academic network, the blue paper said. Most of China's universities, 60 percent of vocational schools, 70 percent of high schools, 30 percent of junior high schools, and 12 percent of primary schools have established a campus network, it said.

The gap

Despite the encouraging data, most of China's information and telecommunications technology applications are equal to the level in developed countries in the 1990s, Zhou said.

Advanced information technologies that will play a key role in increasing productivity, boosting capacities of indigenous innovations, and sharpening the nation's competitiveness are far from being the mainstream applications in China, he said.

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