Beijing's framework for political reform in Hong Kong was far more restrictive than had been expected, but it was the best step forward to universal suffrage, Britain said in its latest half-yearly observation on Hong Kong. Philip Hammond, the British Foreign Secretary, said the second half of last year was one of Hong Kong's most turbulent periods since the handover as a result, but that Beijing's proposal did provide a "meaningful step forward for democracy". He said a transition to democracy was "the best way to preserve Hong Kong's strengths … which delivers a genuine choice for the people of Hong Kong". Britain's latest six-monthly Foreign Office report on Hong Kong covers July to December last year, a period in which the city was gripped by the 79-day Occupy Central protest. That was triggered by the National People's Congress Standing Committee unveiling its plan for universal suffrage. The report also covers the chief executive's submission to the NPC Standing Committee, which kick-started political reform for 2017. Hammond said he hoped the ruling government and legislators would work "together to achieve a consensus" that is "acceptable" to Hongkongers. "Not only would that lead to greater democracy for the election of the chief executive in 2017, but it is also necessary if further reforms are to take place to allow the Legislative Council to be elected by universal suffrage in 2020," Hammond said. Consul general Caroline Wilson said in her Lunar New Year message last week that there should be optimism, not apprehension, in the possibility of universal suffrage for 2017, 2020 and beyond. The report also said that "one country, two systems" had been put to its most serious test since the handover in 1997. Hammond also said in his statement that London would keep reaffirming Hong Kong's basic rights and freedoms as laid out in the Basic Law and the Sino-British Joint Declaration. "There are some areas of concern which are of fundamental importance to Hong Kong's continued stability and prosperity, and which we will monitor closely," he said. Emily Lau, the Democratic Party chairwoman, branded Britain's decision to accept Beijing's political reform plan for Hong Kong as "very weak, quite pathetic … [and] horrendous. "There are many concerns of the Hong Kong people that have not been echoed … It underlines the fear Britain is not defending Hong Kong's interest," she said. Britain reaffirmed that Hong Kong is guaranteed a "high degree of autonomy" and that the treaty ensured "basic rights and freedoms". The Hong Kong government acknowledged the report and said it was committed to achieving universal suffrage in the 2017 chief executive election, adding that the process was “an internal affair”. “The constitutional development of Hong Kong is entirely an internal affair of China and an internal matter for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. We hope foreign governments will respect our position," it said in a statement.