US Consul General James Keith said it was important for Beijing to support the Hong Kong government's efforts in moving towards universal suffrage in the wake of the July 1 protest. But he conceded that the quality of local politicians, as well as the support for party campaigns, were both still immature. Delivering a speech entitled 'Getting it Right in Hong Kong' to the conservative Heritage Foundation think-tank in Washington, Mr Keith said the 500,000-strong protest on July 1 was 'homegrown' rather than manipulated by outsiders in a bid to undermine China's sovereignty over Hong Kong. Describing the protest as probably the 'most important event' in Hong Kong's political history since 1997, he warned that the public wanted political restructuring to go along with economic changes. 'I believe the actions of the government since July 1 indicate it and the central authorities in Beijing do indeed understand the profound implications of what transpired on July 1. Only time will tell if the government gets it right in response to popular demands,' he said. Noting that the central government also favoured not setting a timetable on the enactment of national security legislation, Mr Keith said: 'It will be important for Beijing to be similarly supportive of the Hong Kong government's efforts to advance the Basic Law provision for progress towards universal suffrage.' The US diplomat said the six years since the handover was a very short time for a politically inexperienced leadership to get it right. 'The question should not be whether they are always right - how many governments are? - but whether there are mechanisms in place to raise alarms when the government is headed in the wrong direction; and to allow for mistakes not only to be corrected in the present, but avoided in the future.' Despite the presence of freedom and judicial independence, Mr Keith conceded it would take time for other essential qualities to mature. These include making political parties stronger and developing better mechanisms and more resources to improve the quality of campaigns and local governance. The emergence of leaders who could build public consensus and unity was also important. 'The sooner that Hong Kong begins to strengthen and expand these building blocks of democracy, the better for all concerned,' he said.