Microsoft-backed OpenAI has kept its hit ChatGPT app off-limits to users in China but the app is attracting huge interest in the country, with firms rushing to integrate the technology into their products and launch rival solutions.

While residents in China are unable to create OpenAI accounts to access the artificial intelligence-powered (AI) chatbot, virtual private networks and foreign phone numbers are helping some bypass those restrictions.

At the same time, the OpenAI models behind the ChatGPT program — which can write essays, recipes and complex computer code — are relatively accessible in China and increasingly being incorporated into Chinese consumer technology applications, from social networks to online shopping.