China's online population rises to 519 million | Bangkok Post: tech

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China's online population rises to 519 million

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China's population of internet users has grown to 591 million, driven by a 20% rise over the past year in the number of people who surf the web from smartphones and other wireless devices, an industry group reported Wednesday. 

A woman in Beijing shops online at a Chinese website. (AFP photo)

The end-of-June figures from the China Internet Network Information Centre represent a 10% rise in total internet use over a year earlier. The number of wireless users rose to 464 million.

The communist government encourages internet use for business and education but does its best to block access to material deemed subversive or obscene. The rise of web use has driven the growth of new Chinese industries from online shopping and microblogs to online video.

The latest growth figure raised the percentage of China's population that uses the Internet to 44%, according to CNNIC.

Internet companies are scrambling to respond to the explosive popularity of smartphones, tablets and other wireless devices by rolling out services made for them.

This week, the operator of China's most popular search engine, Baidu Inc, announced it will pay US$1.9 billion to acquire a distributor of smartphone apps, 91 Wireless Websoft.

Chinese online retail giant Alibaba said on Tuesday that it has invested in a travel website, the latest in a series of deals ahead of a planned stock offer.

Alibaba had made a "strategic investment" in China's Qyer, Alibaba spokeswoman Florence Shih said in a statement to AFP.

The logo of online shopping portal Alibaba.com pictured outside its office in Hong Kong on February 22, 2012. Chinese online retail giant Alibaba has invested in a travel website, it said Tuesday, the latest in a series of deals ahead of a planned stock offer.

Financial terms were not disclosed.

"We are confident that Qyer will be able to complement our travel platform, Taobao Travel, by providing our users with high quality travel-related services and content," she said.

Qyer, formally set up in 2008, offers an online platform for users to exchange information and make bookings, with a focus on international travel.

In May Alibaba said it would pay $294 million for a 28% stake in China's leading digital map provider, AutoNavi.

Earlier this year Alibaba bought an 18% stake in China's dominant microblog provider Sina Weibo for $586 million.

The moves come before an expected initial public offer by Alibaba, the world's largest online retailer, which analysts say could value the company at between $60 billion and $100 billion.

Alibaba chief Jack Ma stepped down as chief executive officer in May, handing over the job to Lu Zhaoxi, previously executive vice president. Ma remains chairman.

Alibaba operates China's most popular e-shopping platform, Taobao, which has more than 90% of the country's online market for consumer-to-consumer transactions.

Authorities tightened online controls last year after social networking and other websites played a key role in protests that brought down governments in Egypt and Tunisia.

Also last year, regulators tightened controls on video, requiring providers to prescreen all material before posting online, after officials decided some content was vulgar, pornographic or too violent.

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