Old friends of the Chinese people
From China Digital Space
中国人民的老朋友 (Zhōngguó rénmín de lǎo péngyou): old friends of the Chinese people
Official parlance for world leaders who have visited China and shown their support for the country. The “friends” most discussed by netizens include the late Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, former Iraqi president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. In the early days of the People’s Republic of China, the honorary description was first bestowed on Canadian James G. Endicott in 1956 for his support of the revolution. Early on, “old friends of the Chinese people” were ideological supporters, but as China’s foreign policy has become more pragmatic and market-driven, the phrase has been used to describe trade partners and leaders of international organizations.
The description of late Cambodian ex-king Norodom Sihanouk as an old friend of the Chinese people in state-run media provoked netizen ire, as many felt he did not deserve official condolences. This concern was raised when the government lowered flags to half-mast for him while failing to make a similar demonstration of sympathy for the many Chinese who had died in natural disasters and accidents during that time period.
While the phrase is most commonly used to describe dictators, Xi Jinping did use the phrase to describe departing U.S. ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman in 2011.
China also occasionally describes its relations with other countries in terms of friendships, referring to Pakistan as an “all-weather friend.”