Two Chinese universities have been banned from using a US-developed computer software platform after US authorities put the institutions on an "entity list" over their close ties to People's Liberation Army (PLA), amid tension between the two countries over the use of high technology.
US Department of Commerce has added the Harbin Institute of Technology and Harbin Engineering University to its "entity list" late last week, barring them from access to products subjected to US Export Administration Regulations.
MATLAB, which is used in the analysis in engineering, science and economics, is one of these products, Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported on Friday.
A spokesman for the Harbin Institute of Technology said the university learned about the ban last weekend and was investigating its impact, adding that it was not clear how many students and subjects would be affected.
In its ban order, US Department of Commerce said the Harbin Institute of Technology had sought to use US technology for missile programmes, while Harbin Engineering University had acquired and attempted to acquire "US-origin items in support of programmes for the PLA".
Students from the two universities posted responses from MathWorks - the American company that offers MATLAB - to their queries after the students found that they could not log on.
"Due to recent US government regulations, MathWorks is prohibited from providing technical or customer support to Harbin Engineering University and Harbin Institute of Technology, including your institution," one of the MathWorks responses said.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that she was not familiar with the case, but the US had taken many "groundless" actions on normal exchanges between the two countries.
"I think these actions underline the deep-rooted cold war mentality of the US and they are straightforward political oppression of China," Hua said.
There has been escalating confrontation between the US and China over trade, the origins of the novel coronavirus pandemic, Beijing's security crackdown in Hong Kong and the communist giant's aggressive military moves in the disputed South China Sea.
The US has added 24 Chinese companies and institutions to the entity list this year, citing their links to the military.
For many of these sanctioned firms and institutions, US technology and business with US companies are critical to their operations, and their inclusion in the entity list makes it difficult for them to gain export licences for US software and hardware, the Post report said.
The Trump Administration has already banned some Chinese students and researchers from entering the US after accusing them of stealing intellectual property.
The entry ban came into effect from June 1.
US media reports attributed the move as part of the Washington's reaction to the adoption of a draft decision by China's top legislature on the controversial national security legislation for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), which is opposed by local people as it facilitates Chinese security establishment to function from the former British colony.
On Friday, China's Education Ministry said it strongly opposes the US government's move to restrict some Chinese students from studying in America.
A ministry spokesperson said the ministry strongly opposes "politicising and stigmatising" normal studying abroad.
"US leaders have said publicly many times the US welcomes Chinese students, yet the recent policy changes of the US side contradict those words," the spokesperson said in a statement.
"We urge the US side to return to rational thinking, respect public opinion, and do more things to facilitate bilateral people-to-people communications and understanding," it said.
China will continue supporting student exchanges between the two countries and welcome students from all over the world, including the US, to come to China to study, the statement said.