BEIJING, NOV. 23 -- Quiet negotiations are under way to arrange a visit to China by Pope John Paul II, a Roman Catholic spokesman in Hong Kong said today.

Louis Ha, director of the Hong Kong Catholic Social Communications office, said a "third country," or third party that he declined to identify, had taken the initiative, acting as an intermediary to organize the first papal visit to China.

Father Ha said that such a visit would not take place until at least 1989, leaving enough time to resolve some of the issues that have divided Beijing and the Vatican for three decades.

{The Vatican today denied reports that the pope was planning a visit to China and said at present there was no chance of such a trip, Reuter reported.}

The report of a possible papal visit followed a nine-day trip to China by Cardinal Jaime Sin, the archbishop of Manila. The cardinal met in Beijing with Zhao Ziyang, the Communist Party chief, and later said he thought China and the Vatican would come to an agreement. It was the highest level meeting between a Roman Catholic church representative and a Chinese leader since the Communists took power in 1949. The Communist authorities forced the Chinese Catholic church to break relations with the Vatican in 1957 and accused the Holy See of interfering in China's internal affairs. Many Chinese Catholics have nonetheless maintained a quiet loyalty to Rome.

Cardinal Sin had made an earlier, personal visit to China in 1984. His recently concluded visit was not officially sanctioned by the Vatican, but it seemed to have the blessing of the pope.

Reached by telephone in Hong Kong, Father Ha said the Philippines was not the third party intermediary. Ha spoke yesterday to two Hong Kong newspapers about a possible papal visit, and his remarks made front-page news in the British colony.

During a trip to Asia in 1981, Pope John Paul said the Holy See wanted to open a dialogue with China. Last year, the Vatican designated the Hong Kong Catholic diocese to act as a bridge in renewing contacts with the mainland.

Chinese officials estimate that there are 6 million Catholics living in China, but some foreign sources say the real figure is probably higher.

One of the Vatican's main problems in attempting to restore ties with Beijing has been the Vatican's continuing links with Taiwan, where more than 300,000 Catholics reside. But in a radio interview last week in Manila, Cardinal Sin said he thought the Taiwan problem and the problem of alleged Vatican "interference" in China's affairs could be solved through "continued dialogues."

The cardinal had asked to see imprisoned Catholics in China but was turned down. Hong Kong sources estimate that more than 50 lay Catholics and priests are still being held in Chinese prisons. Some were arrested because they maintained their loyalty to the pope and refused to submit to the authority of the government-sponsored Patriotic Catholic Association.

One bishop who remained loyal to the Vatican, Joseph Fan Xueyan, now 79, was accused of ordaining priests in secret. In 1984, he was sent to prison for 10 years.