China is more advanced in the use of technology than many people know. It passed Japan this year to become the second biggest consumer of PCs after the U.S. It’s closing in on 100 million Internet users, placing it second in that area, though it still has only half as many users as the U.S. And 15 million Chinese subscribe to broadband DSL service. That’s more than in the U.S., though many Americans get their high-speed connections from a cable company.
In cellphones, China’s 250 million users far surpass those of any other country. (Official statistics claim more than 325 million subscriptions, but they overcount business travelers, who get more than one subscription to avoid high roaming fees.) What’s more, those 250 million users are still only about one-fifth of China’s population.
The second big reason to pay attention to China’s technological rise is that it’s happening faster here than it did elsewhere in Asia. The transfer of marginal businesses from the U.S. and Europe to lower-cost operators in Asia has been going on for more than a generation, starting with Japan, then South Korea and Taiwan. China’s government, companies, partners and investors learned lessons from the country’s neighbors. They’re also all moving faster because the tools of the trade — manufacturing equipment, logistics systems and the like — are all better than ever.