Many people have been outraged by Google and other U.S. Internet firms’ dealings with China. There is no real freedom of speech and the country has a questionable background with human rights violations. But from a business perspective, the rationale behind partnerships has always been obvious — and now it’s official: China has passed the U.S. in terms of total Internet users.

In February of this year, China had over 220 million people on the Internet according to the Beijing-based research firm BDA China. By March this number surged to 233 million. The United States, by comparison, is still lingering around its end-of-2007 total of 216 million.

Expect this gap to widen as well. While 71 percent of the United States’ population is on the Internet, only 17 percent of China’s population has the same access, according to USA Today. China has 1.3 billion people versus the United States 304 million. If 71 percent of China had access to the Internet, that would be close to a billion people.

During its quarterly earnings call last week, Google spoke a lot about the large role of international growth in its recent success. Europe has so far been a big part of that, but the real prize that everyone is eyeing is China.

Google has been trying to outmaneuver leading Chinese search provider Baidu for access to those potential billion users. It even recently tried moving into the legally gray-area of searching for unlicensed music downloads.

Already the worldwide leader in mobile phone usage, China now has another technology bragging right as it  prepares to host this summer’s Olympic games.

[photo: flickr/fortes]

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