The judge's decision marks a major victory for the SEC, which for years tried with limited success to gain access to audit work conducted by Chinese accounting firms for Chinese companies that list in U.S. markets.
Several companies that have listed on U.S. stock exchanges have been plagued with accounting scandals.
The SEC has tried to delist or de-register some troubled companies, but has said investigations into possible fraud were stymied by the firms' failure to turn over audit work papers.
The accounting firms have repeatedly declined to share their audits, saying Chinese secrecy laws forbid it. They urged the SEC to pursue a diplomatic solution with China instead.
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After years of often strained negotiations with Chinese regulators, the SEC decided in late 2012 to pursue sanctions against the firms.
The judge declined to impose a permanent bar as the SEC requested, but said a six-month bar was in the public interest, and said he had "little sympathy" for the firms.
"Respondents operated large accounting businesses for years, knowing that, if called upon to cooperate in a Commission investigation into their business, they must necessarily fail to fully cooperate and might thereby violate the law," he said.
"Such behavior does not demonstrate good faith, indeed, quite the opposite - it demonstrates gall."
The SEC said it was gratified by the decision, which upholds its authority.
"These records are critical to our ability to investigate potential securities law violations and protect investors," said Matthew Solomon, the chief litigation counsel in the SEC's Enforcement Division.
It is not clear what impact the decision could have on major U.S. firms that had become concerned that they could be drawn into the international dispute in a way that could compromise their ability to produce audited accounts.
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U.S. firms with major Chinese businesses include fast food group Yum Brands Inc, tech firm Qualcomm and construction equipment maker Caterpillar.
Diplomatic efforts in jeopardy?
It remains to be seen whether Wednesday's ruling could hinder the SEC's diplomatic bid to convince China to provide greater access to audit work papers, an effort that has led to improved ties since the summer.
During testimony in this case, the SEC revealed that China had agreed to send 20 boxes of audit work for Longtop Financial Technologies, one of the companies under investigation for fraud. In addition, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, which registers, inspects and disciplines auditors, has been pursuing a diplomatic solution for gaining access to the work papers.
In May, the PCAOB reached a deal with China that has allowed it to get some audit documents in connection with investigations. The board is still hoping for cross-border cooperation so its inspectors can also examine China-based audit firms.
Recognizing the risk that the ruling could strain diplomatic ties, Elliot said he decided to seal large portions of his decision that delve into Chinese-SEC relations.
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"I am hopeful that the commission and the (China Securities Regulatory Commission) will continue to constructively engage one another," he wrote.
A PCAOB spokeswoman declined to comment on the ruling.