A State Council report shows that government services are still delivered mainly in person or on paper, despite the mushrooming number of government websites in recent years.
The findings obtained after a three-month study indicate that only 5.2 percent of China's government websites are frequently used. Nearly half of the 11,764 sites are simply one-way mirrors, the State Council Informatization Office said in its report, and more interaction is badly needed.
A State Council official who wished to remain anonymous said that by the end of this year, central government departments will deliver documents and meeting notes through the web. A long-awaited central government portal will be launched this year.
China had approximately 600,000 approved websites by the end of 2003, up 60.3 percent from 2002, said the report on Internet resources in China, which was produced by the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC).
However, about 90 percent of the websites are in the more developed provinces, showing a growing gap between rich regions and less developed regions, the report said.
Beijing, south China's Guangdong Province, east China's Zhejiang Province and Shanghai are the top four for the number of websites, accounting for 56.8 percent of the total.
In western China, however, many government officials face cyber difficulties.
Wang Gang, a 30-year-old assistant to a county head in Sichuan Province, said his day-to-day business has always been done face-to-face or on paper.
"I have no basic knowledge of the Internet. I don't have e-mail," Wang told China Daily when asked to conduct an online interview this week.
The report also indicated that only 14.8 percent of the Chinese government websites have English pages and just 3.0 percent include Japanese. The lack of content in foreign languages has also brought complaints from foreigners.
Canadian businessman Mark Justine said there is no English version in some websites of cabinet departments, not to mention agencies at provincial or local levels.
"That makes it difficult for me to read them," said Justine.
But some cities are leading the way. Northeast China's coastal city of Dalian has set up Chinese, English, Japanese and Korean versions of its government website.
Zhao Xiaofan, director of the State Council Informatization Office, said the Internet in China has developed rapidly despite its late introduction. As recently as the early 1990s, "Internet" was still an alien word to the public.
Zhao said the e-government initiative would promote democracy by providing residents with more digital connections such as e-mail, and simplifying election procedures by, for example, allowing voting online.
"They can also make administrative work more transparent and efficient by networking government departments and introducing Intranets and so on," said Zhao.
He said the Chinese government has shown great enthusiasm for information technology as part of the country's modernization drive.
The government has set ambitious goals for Internet usage and IT development in its Tenth Five-Year Plan (2001-2005).
By the end of 2005, China should have a broadband network that combines Internet, telephone lines and cable networks. The number of Internet users is expected to reach 150 million, or more than 11 percent of the population.
(China Daily April 5, 2004)