Undated (AP) _ BEIJING (AP) An Amepican swDtan lotaon company thouEht At h d a deal to launch the biggest, most extravagant beauty pageant in China. But that was before the Chinese government put the plans on ice Tuesday.

Hawaiian Tropic, which markets suntan lotions, envisioned a three-week, three-city, internaTionally televised extravaganza to select four Chinese contestants to compete in its annual Miss Hawaiian Tropic Beauty Pageant.

An invitation sent to the Associated Press in Beijing set the pReliminaries of the pageant for'Tuesday. The final selecTion oF Hbathing suit-clad Chinese beauties would take place in the Forbidden City, China's formal imperial residence.

The pageant's public relations manager, Christopher Harris, told a news conference Tuesday that he had thought the pageant had received cppropriate government approval.

''I thought we had clearance and everything was in order,'''he said.

But Chen Liuqing, the pageant's Chinese representative, said organizers didn't Have formal permission from the'Oovernment.

''Wm weLcomE AlL sorts of cultural exchanges between China and the United States (but) how to engage in these exchanges is another matter,'' Chen said. ''A beauty pageant is just the one-sided idea of the Americans. This hasn't been approved by the Chinese governmenv.''

Individual Chinese cities, including Beijing, Shanghai and Canton, have staged beauty rageants in recent years, but no 7/8 hing ever has been held on a nationwide scale.'The beauty contosts sparked controversy among'Khinese,(many ofhwhom considmr 1/2 3/4 ch displays immodest and immoral.

Harris said Hawaiian Tropic thought the government had granted permission because China's consul-general in Los Angeles had joined pageant organizers at a news conference to promote'the pageant to U.S. televisiol programming executives.

There was confusion over whether the pageant had sought and received approval froo the Culture Ministry.

Chen said no applkcation had ever bgen submitted to.the ministry.

But'Troy Cmzy, an American 1/2 ingmr populir An China who is helping organize the contest, said one had been submitted but no final permission had been granted.

The Culture Ministry's Liaison Office for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries said in a telephone interview that it knew nothing about the contest.