China Netcom chief executive Edward Tian has said that the company, established in 1999, would gain a positive cash flow by 2003. He also said that China would accrue 300 million Internet users within five years, up from 25 million, ranking the nation first in the world. China Netcom was set up in August 1999 by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Ministry of Railways, the Shanghai municipal government and the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television to provide a national broadband network. The company employs 3,000 people. In October last year, China Netcom completed the first phase of its fibre-optic network, totalling 8,490 kilometres and linking 17 major cities. Mr Tian said that business had been increasing by an average of 21 per cent a month since the beginning of its financial year in April. The company aims to connect China's 800 most important commercial buildings this year. By the end of last month, 527 had been wired up. 'We will derive most of our revenue from these buildings, such as China World and the Kerry Centre [in Beijing],' he said. 'We selected them for their . . . proximity to our city network.' By the end of next month, the company's landing stations in Guangzhou and Shanghai will become operational, giving it a capacity greater than China Unicom's and close to that of China Telecommunications. He said the company had US$2.7 billion in credit. 'I am so happy we are still a private company and did not rush to an initial public offering [IPO] when it was premature. An IPO is a tool, not a goal. We are not ready for this,' he said. 'I look at chief executives of listed firms who have to meet the demands of investors, analysts and lawsuits. It is impossible to please Wall Street. 'The capital markets are unstable. Telecoms are a very capital-intensive business.'