BEIJING: The number of Chinese internet users soared by 30% in 2006 to 132 million, according to state-controlled news agency Xinhua.

The Internet Network Information Centre says the number of people with access to broadband is now 52 million, while the country ranks number two behind the US for the globe's largest web user population.

Online commerce, advertising and games industries have benefited from the expansion, says the report.

The Chinese authorities have been repeatedly criticized for censoring web content that they consider subversive or offensive. The government insists, however, its regulation of the web is in line with the rest of the world.

  • Meanwhile, a top statistics official believes the nation's economy grew 10.5% in 2006, a slight increase on the 10.2% expansion in GDP the previous year.

    Yao Jingyuan, chief economist at the National Bureau of Statistics, also told a financial forum that the combined value of China's imports and exports was likely to have risen 25% in 2006 to $1.7 trillion (€1.29bn; £866bn).

    He expected the economy to maintain a "fast and steady growth" in 2007, with the growth rate likely to slow to around 10%.

    At the same time, he cautioned, the economy still faced the risk of overheating and pointed out the dangers of "overly high credit growth, excessively rapid investment growth, and a large trade surplus".

    Yao added that industrial output is likely to have grown 17%, faster than the 11.4% rise in the previous year, while retail sales are likely to have risen 13% to seven trillion yuan ($896bn) in 2006, basically unchanged from 12.9% growth in 2005.

    Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online and BBC Online; additional content by WARC staff