AN OFFICIAL of Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) denied yesterday it has been pushing the island's Cabinet to set up an office in Hong Kong before 1997. Shih Chi-ping, deputy secretary-general of the SEF, denied press reports which claimed the foundation had urged Taiwan's Cabinet-level Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) to consider the feasibility of opening the office. Mr Shih stressed that the SEF had not been authorised to initiate discussions with the mainland on this matter. He added it would need authorisation from the MAC before such discussions could take place. 'So far, we haven't made any formal discussions with the MAC on this proposal. It's still too early to make this move,' said Mr Shih. He also denied press claims that an ad hoc group directed by himself and another deputy-secretary general, Lee Jin-ping, was established under the SEF last June to oversee Hong Kong and Macau affairs. 'Of course, we're concerned about our future operations in Hong Kong, but we're far from making any concrete steps to materialise this idea,' said Mr Shih. However, he admitted an office in Hong Kong had been planned for some time to provide services to Taiwan residents in the territory and to cope with the increasing traffic between Hong Kong and Taiwan. The SEF is a semi-official body under the MAC to handle exchanges between Taiwan and the mainland.