China had 210 million Internet users by the end of 2007 and will soon have more web surfers than any other country on the planet, an official report said Thursday.
China's online population was only five million less than the US, the government-linked China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) said in a report.
"The CNNIC predicts that at the beginning of 2008, China will become the country with the largest online population in the world," the CNNIC said in its report.
China already has the globe's biggest mobile phone user population, numbering 539.4 million at the end of November, according to government figures.
China added 73 million new online users last year, as the Internet seemed to be catching on in the countryside, where development has so far been held back by low incomes and weak infrastructure.
The number of rural Internet users reached 52.6 million by the end of 2007, up a whopping 127.7 percent from a year earlier, the CNNIC said.
The fast growing online population has made the Internet a new forum for average Chinese to, among other things, express opinions in a free-wheeling way rarely seen on the strictly government-controlled traditional media.
It has stirred up Beijing's fears about potential social unrest, and President Hu Jintao called last year for efforts to "purify" the Internet.
The latest example of government crackdowns on Internet use is an announcement earlier this month that only state-controlled entities would be allowed to operate websites that post audio-visual content.