A new survey of gay men in China has found that 4.9% are living with HIV. In 2005 the figure was 0.4%.

The Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention said the survey questioned more than 18,000 gay men in 61 Chinese cities.

The 2005 survey only covered two cities.

“Sex becomes the major way of AIDS transmission in China and its spread among men having sex with men was worsening notably,” Hao Yang, deputy director of the disease control department under the Ministry of Health, told Xinhua news agency.

“I think whether we can well control the AIDS transmission among gays will greatly affect the future of the whole country’s battle against the epidemic.”

In September the Beijing Centres of Disease Control and Prevention said that up to 5% of gay men in capital city have HIV.

It cited the difficulty in getting the message about safe sex across to closeted gay men is a contributing factor.

Officially there were 214,000 people living with HIV in China by July 30th 2007, but it is feared many tens of thousands more are not on the official lists.

Beijing authorities examined one million blood samples between January and July this year and found 563 people infected. Among them, 118 were permanent residents of the city.

This year China’s Ministry of Health implemented its first ever national programme to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS among gay men.

The programme marks a subtle new phase in the one-party-state’s attitudes towards homosexuality since sodomy was decriminalised in 1997: No approval, no disapproval and no promotion.

Gay sex accounted for just 0.4 percent of new infections in 2005, but that figure had risen to 3.3 percent by 2007.

Of the estimated 700,000 Chinese people living with HIV or AIDS, 11% contracted the virus through gay sex, according to Ministry of Health figures.

While homosexuality is still officially classified as a “mouldering life style of capitalism” in the officially communist state, there are no laws against gay sex or lifestyles. Neither are there any laws protecting Chinese gays from discrimination.