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China's web surfers rise to 79.5 million people
( 2004-01-16 13:37) (Agencies)

The number of Internet surfers in China grew to 79.5 million people at the end of 2003, up an annual 34.5 per cent, a semi-official research center said on Thursday.

China, which already had the world's second-largest Web population after the United States, added 20.4 million new online users during the year, the China Internet Network Information Center said on its Web site www.cnnic.com.cn.

"China's Internet market has great potential," it said in the statement. "It has already become the country's fastest-growing, most influential sector."

Total users will grow very quickly in the next five years, the center has said in its twice-yearly report.

Explosive growth in the Web population has translated into handsome profits for China-focused Internet firms such as Sina.com, Sohu.com and NetEase.com, sending their stock prices soaring.

The Internet's second coming in China has drawn hard cash from U.S.-based industry leader Yahoo Inc. which bought mainland search engine 3721.com for US$120 million in November and has formed an online auction joint venture with Sina.

CNNIC said the number of computers connected to the Internet reached 30.9 million at the end of last year, up 48.3 per cent from the year-earlier period.

The average Chinese Web surfer is male, unmarried and under 35.

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