(Bloomberg) -- OpenAI is taking additional steps to curb China’s access to artificial intelligence software, enforcing an existing policy to block users in nations outside of the territory it supports.

The Microsoft Corp.-backed startup sent memos to developers in China about plans to begin blocking their access to its tools and software from July, according to screenshots posted on social media that outlets including the Securities Times reported on Tuesday. In China, local players including Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Tencent Holdings Ltd.-backed Zhipu AI posted notices encouraging developers to switch to their own products.

“We are taking additional steps to block API traffic from regions where we do not support access to OpenAI’s services,” an OpenAI spokeswoman said in a statement Tuesday. 

OpenAI supports access to its services in dozens of countries. Those accessing its products in countries not included on the list, such as China, may have their accounts blocked or suspended, according to the company’s guidelines.  

It’s unclear what prompted the move by OpenAI. In May, Sam Altman’s startup revealed it had cut off at least five covert influence operations in past months, saying they were using its products to manipulate public opinion.

The memo coincides with growing pressure from Washington to curtail Chinese access to advanced artificial intelligence technology. While OpenAI is officially unavailable in the country, many developers access its tools through virtual private networks and other means.

From Baidu Inc. to startups like Zhipu, Chinese firms are trying to develop AI models that can match ChatGPT and other US industry pioneers. Beijing is openly encouraging local firms to innovate in AI, a technology it considers crucial to shoring up China’s economic and military standing.

At the same time, Washington is moving to deny Chinese access to critical technologies. The US Treasury Department has proposed rules to restrict outbound investment in technologies it considers crucial to national security, including chips and AI.

The restrictions, which have been in the works for more than a year, are part of President Joe Biden’s strategy of curbing Beijing’s ability to develop sensitive technologies that threaten US national security.

--With assistance from Vlad Savov, Debby Wu, Zheping Huang, Gao Yuan and Jackie Davalos.

(Updates to include company comment starting in first paragraph.)

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