The order, published Wednesday, takes effect June 16, but it could be moved up.
The issue comes amid rising tensions between Washington and Beijing. The dispute is also a departure from the type of bilateral agreements that the U.S. government has pursued for decades that aim to make it easier for airlines to expand to international airports without onerous government approvals. The U.S. does not have a so-called Open Skies agreement with China.
The U.S. order affects Air China, China Eastern, China Southern and Xiamen. The airlines did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The measure does not affect flights from Hong Kong, a Department of Transportation spokesman said.
The current dispute "goes back to the era of limited entry markets which we have been trying to get away from for the past 30 years," said Bob Mann, an aviation analyst and a former executive at TWA and other airlines.