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Pro-democracy protesters make a cordon to keep a road open outside government offices in Hong Kong on October 3, 2014. Hong Kong has been plunged into the worst political crisis since its 1997 handover as pro-democracy activists take over the streets following China's refusal to grant citizens full universal suffrage.

XAUME OLLEROS/AFP/Getty Images

British Columbia's Premier has cautiously addressed the massive, pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong but stopped short of weighing in on how the Chinese government should respond.

Asked Thursday about the student-led protests that have swept through the city, Christy Clark said that the proper response by Canada is a federal responsibility. However, the Premier – who has spoken often of B.C.'s role as a Pacific Rim province – expressed some concerns about the situation in the former British colony.

Ms. Clark said she sympathized with the large "Hong-Kong connected" community in B.C. as its members monitor the tense situation.

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"I want folks here who are connected to Hong Kong to know that our thoughts and prayers are certainly with them," she told reporters after an unrelated speech to the Vancouver Board of Trade.

"It's really positive that the protests have been peaceful and no one's life is in jeopardy. It is, though, a very tense time, I know that."

Ms. Clark added that she continued to support the "one country, two systems" structure that has been in place since 1997 when Hong Kong went from British rule to being governed by China.

Thursday's comments by Ms. Clark are softer than those she has made on other international issues. In July, she took a pointed position on the war in Gaza.

"While the world watches in agony, we recognize the need for a ceasefire that leads to long-term security and peace in the region," she wrote in a letter posted to the website of the Ottawa-based Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. "Israel has the right to defend itself and its citizens against terrorist attacks."

In March, she spoke about the crisis on Europe's Crimean Peninsula, saying the dispute was no longer diplomatic, Ukrainian territory had been breached in violation of international law and Ukrainian sovereignty must be respected.

B.C.'s exports to China make up nearly one-third of all Canadian exports to China. In 2013, the province exported $6.59-billion worth of goods; the country's total was $20.19-billion. Ms. Clark called her December, 2013, trade mission to China "one of the most successful, if not the most successful, that we've ever done."

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The protesters are calling for full universal suffrage in the 2017 chief executive election, as well as for the resignation of current leader Leung Chun-ying, which Mr. Leung has refused to offer. On Thursday, he appointed Chief Secretary Carrie Lam to meet with representatives of the Hong Kong Federation of Students.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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