An Internet user in China. Photo: Xinhua

The number of China’s internet users hit 989 million by the end of last year, an increase of 85.4 million from March 2020, according to a report on China’s internet development released on Wednesday.

China’s internet availability rate was raised by 5.9 percentage points from March to 70.4%, said the statistical report from the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), an agency under the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

A total of 986 million Chinese used mobile phones to surf the internet, accounting for 99.7% of the online population, said the report. About 309 million, or 31.3% of the online population, live in rural areas, an increase of 54.71 million from March.

Meanwhile, internet availability rate in rural areas neared 56%, up 9.7% percentage points from March, according to the report.

E-commerce in rural areas

Mobile phones are evolving into new farm tools while e-commerce has become a part of farm work for China’s rural population, said the CNNIC.

By the end of 2020, e-commerce had covered all of the country’s 832 national-level poverty-stricken counties. Online sales emerge as an important force in the fight against poverty, it said.

Online retail sales in rural areas jumped to 1.79 trillion yuan (US$277 billion) last year from 180 billion yuan in 2014, data showed.

New forms of rural online shopping, including live streaming and e-commerce, not only benefit consumers but also boost the sales of high-quality agricultural products in rural areas, the report read.

Amid government efforts to expand rural internet coverage over recent years, residents in 98% of China’s poor villages had access to the internet through fiber-optic cables by the end of 2020, up from less than 70% five years ago, according to the report.

Chipmaking machines

China imported about 543.5 billion integrated circuits in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic, up 22.1% year-on-year, according to customs data. The import value was up 14.6% year-on-year to US$350 billion – more than the combined value of crude oil and iron ore. 

“The Trump administration’s relentless crackdown on Chinese chipmakers and tech giants put them under a certain degree of pressure and caused a certain amount of panic last year. Ahead of US sanctions, companies like Huawei had to stockpile a large quantity of chips,” said Xiang Ligang, director-general of the Beijing-based Information Consumption Alliance.

However, he added that stockpiling too many chips may turn out to be wasteful as new iterations of chips usually happen frequently. He said importing chipmaking machines might make things different as they can help China make its own high-end chips. 

Company news

Alibaba’s cloud computing revenue skyrocketed by 50% to 16.11 billion yuan in the three months ended December 31 from the same period of 2019, thanks to the “robust growth in revenue from customers in the internet and retail industries and the public sector.

Alibaba reported an operating profit for its cloud computing business for the first time. The tech mogul has been trying to diversify its business layout aside from e-commerce for some time.

“Our cloud computing business continues to expand market leadership and show strong growth, reflecting the massive potential of China’s nascent cloud computing market, as well as our years of investment in technology,” Alibaba’s chief executive Daniel Zhang said.

Alibaba’s total revenue came in at 221.08 billion yuan in the three months ended December 31, beating analysts’ estimates of 214.4 billion yuan.

Tesla China announced that its supercharger manufacturing factory in Shanghai was put into production on Wednesday, less than half a year after the project was officially launched in August 2020.

With an investment of 42 million yuan, the 5,000-square-meter plant has an annual capacity of 10,000 superchargers, mainly the V3 model, at the initial stage. The company claimed a V3 supercharger can add 250km of range by charging for 15 minutes.

The stories were compiled by Nadeem Xu and KoKo and first published at ATimesCN.com.