Internet usage in China, much like construction, is booming. According to a report on ECommerce Times,

The number of Internet users in China increased more than 23 percent in 2006, topping out at 137 million with an estimated 104 million of those having some level of access to a broadband connection.More than 70 percent of China’s Internet users are under 30 years old, and 58.3 percent of the overall users are men, with 41.7 percent women, the CNNIC report noted. The two largest age groups for users are 18 to 24, with 35.2 percent, and 25 to 30, with 19.7 percent.

In addition to internet growth, the number of mobile phone users in China has topped the total US population. These staggering numbers are due to the lowering cost of hardware and improved service access. This increased communication promises to introduce a growing Chinese middle class to the global economy providing additional finance and marketing opportunities.

It also seemed to promise the spread of democratic and capitalistic ideologies, but there is reason to worry. Today Chinese Communist Party Chairman Hu Jintao dually promised

to maximise the economic potential of the web, while seeking to “purify the internet environment”Hu told the politburo the party should “strengthen administration and development of our country’s internet culture”. He continued: “[To] maintain the initiative in opinion on the internet and raise the level of guidance online, we must promote civilised running and use of the internet and purify the internet environment.”

It is still unclear to what extent this statement is meant to be carried when censoring unpopular ideologies on the internet. There may be some light at the end of the tunnel. Yesterday a code of conduct was announced by several high-tech companies, including Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft and Vodafone. These companies, already facing serious ethical dilemmas from past dealing with the Chinese government have agreed that free internet expression is a top priority.

Later this year the group of companies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) will produce “a set of principles guiding company behaviour when faced with laws, regulations and policies that interfere with the achievement of human rights”, said the statement. Those that commit to those principles will be held accountable to them, it said.

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