China is on pace to surpass the United States within two years as the nation with the most Internet users, the government and news reports said Wednesday.
China's online population grew by 23.4 percent last year to 137 million people, about 10 percent of its 1.3 billion population, the China Internet Network Information Center reported on its Web site.
"We believe it will take two years at most for China to overtake the United States," the official China Daily newspaper quoted an official of the agency, Wang Enhai, as saying.
About 210 million of the United States' 300 million people are online, according to the U.S. government. China would reach 210 million users in two years if it keeps up a 24 percent annual growth rate.
China's communist government encourages Internet use for education and business but tries to block its public from seeing material authorities consider subversive or obscene. Dozens of people have been jailed for posting political essays online.
The country had 111 million Internet users in January 2006, according to the Internet agency, also known as CNNIC.
China also saw strong growth in wireless Internet use, with about 17 million people online from mobile phones, the agency said.