China has restored mobile text message services in a Western province where they were suspended for months following unrest. Limited Internet access is also returning to the region.
Residents in the Xinjiang region, which is home to China's Uighur ethnic minority, can now send up to 20 text messages a day but are still barred from making international phone calls unless they register with authorities, the official China Daily newspaper said Monday. China cut off virtually all Internet, text message and international call services in the region after deadly ethnic riots there claimed nearly 200 lives last July.
The news comes after China released its latest figures on Internet use, showing the country had over 384 million people online at the end of last month. That number, larger than the population of the U.S., means China still has the most Internet users in any country.
China's leaders have said they promote the growth of the Internet, but they also work to restrict the online spread of information that could loosen their grip on power. Google last week said it would stop censoring its Chinese search engine and may pull out of China altogether, highlighting concerns over government measures used there to check free speech online.
China has also started restoring Internet service in Xinjiang, but state-run news portals and certain regional Web sites are among the only viewable sites so far. The popular portals Sina.com.cn and Sohu.com became available in the region last week, but they were stripped of features including e-mail and blogs for local viewers, according to state media.
The Uighurs are a mostly Muslim people that have sometimes complained of unfair treatment at the hands of a government led by China's ethnic majority, the Han Chinese.