BEIJING - China's population of Internet users jumped by nearly a third to 384 million at the end of last year, an official report showed on Friday, days after Google threatened to retreat from the expanding market.
The report from the state China Internet Network Information Center (www.cnnic.net.cn) underscored the growing scope of the Internet in the country, which Google said it may quit because of censorship and hacking.
Throughout 2009, the number of Chinese Internet users grew by 86 million -- more than the total population of Germany -- or a rise of 28.9 percent compared to the end of 2008.
The survey, based on a count of residents who said they used the Internet in the past six months, found 29 percent of China's 1.3 billion people are now net users.
The numbers establish China's position as the world's largest online community, more than the entire population of the United States.
Although the rate of (Internet) participation continues to rise, compared to developed countries, China's rate of Internet participation remains quite low, said the report.
By contrast, 74 percent of Americans use the Internet and 77 percent of South Koreans, it said.
China's rate of growth in Internet users slowed compared with 2008, when the number grew by 41.9 percent. In 2002, China had 59 million users.
With China's expanding 3G mobile network, more than 120 million people used mobile Internet applications, said the Chinese-language report.
The number of people using the Internet to book travel, bank and carry out other commerce grew by 68 percent year-on-year.
(Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Ken Wills and Sugita Katyal)