WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Clinton today denounced as ``highly objectionable'' a Chinese decision to withdraw the visas of three Radio Free Asia employees who had planned to cover the president's trip to China.

``We will protest it. We hope they will reconsider it,'' said Clinton, who is scheduled to depart Wednesday morning with a large official delegation. Most of the more than 350 reporters, photographers and technicians on the assignment leave today for Beijing.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich wrote Clinton, meanwhile, that he was ``gravely concerned.'' The Georgian called the Chinese action ``censorship _ pure and simple.''

He urged Clinton to make clear to China that American freedom of the press was not negotiable. If the visas are not returned, Gingrich told Clinton, ``You should bring them with you in person as your guests on Air Force One.''

Pulling the three RFA visas will ``deprive China of the credit it otherwise would have gotten for giving more visas to a more diverse group of journalists and allowing more different kinds of people in there than they've ever done before,'' Clinton said.

``I think it's a highly objectionable decision.''

White House officials also advised the reporters not to attempt the trip without visas because under U.S. regulations, airplanes cannot carry Americans to foreign countries without valid visas.

The three banned by the communist government are Arin Basu, an Indian who is a diplomatic reporter for the broadcast agency; Patricia Hindman, a technician and producer; and Feng Xiao Ming, a Chinese-American who is a broadcaster for Radio Free Asia,

They were telephoned Saturday afternoon by the Chinese Embassy here and told their visas had been canceled. Later, in a formal later, the Chinese government said the reason was they worked for Radio Free Asia, which is funded by the U.S. government.

Officials of the agency asked for help from the White House and where told today ``we shouldn't try it because a carrier cannot have passengers who do not have valid visas,'' said an RFA official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The three broadcast employes were to have gone with scores of other reporters on a charter to China today to cover the President's trip.

RFA broadcasts to mainland China in Chinese and has upset officials there with its reports on human rights abuses and on other issues.

bs (end)