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China now has the largest number of internet users in the world, a Chinese research firm has calculated.

BDA China estimates that since the end of February, the country has surpassed the US in total internet population.

The US has enjoyed the numero uno slot since around the dawn of time - or the creation of the internet.

Data released earlier this year by the government-run China Internet Network Information Center said that China's internet users totaled 210 million at the end of 2007. US web analyst Nielsen/NetRatings put the American total at 216 million for the same period.

"Based on these sources and the assumption that these markets have continued to grow in 2008 to date at the same rates that they grew in 2007, we can conclude that China has by now comfortably surpassed the United States as the world's largest internet population," said BDA analyst Bin Liu.

[This just in: Forget you, United States. We'll see you folks on the Red Web.]

However, BDA notes that the US still far outstrips China in internet advertising and commerce.

[Correction: Oh ho ho! Just kidding, United States. What a laugh! Got you good. Best pals, right? Hey, let's all click on an ad to show there's no hard feelings.]

According to CNNIC (that second N is a mystery), China has only about a 16 per cent internet penetration rate. That compares with a global average of 19.1 per cent, and a deep 69.7 per cent penetration in the US.

Now here comes the obligatory reference to the Beijing Olympic Games:

"China has been home to the world's largest mobile communications user base for several years. Now it adds internet users to its gold medal collection," said BDA. "While the volume of communications users will continue to boom, the focus now in China will increasingly shift to deriving greater value from these consumers."

The firm predicts over time that China will become "part of an Asian 'New California,'" which will shape global innovation with new tech companies and applications. Throw in a Chinese Paris Hilton and you've got yourself a deal. ®

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