Old friends of the Chinese people
From China Digital Space
Zhōngguó rénmín de lǎo péngyou 中国人民的老朋友
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, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, and following the awardance of China's Confucius Peace Prize in 2015 and his house arrest amid a military coup in 2017 Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. The honorary descriptor 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.
In 2012 the late Cambodian ex-king Norodom Sihanouk was called an old friend of the Chinese people in state-run media. Netizens objected when the government lowered flags to half-mast for Sihanouk while failing to make a similar demonstration of sympathy for the many Chinese who had died in natural disasters and accidents around the same time.
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."
Laozitanyue (@老子叹曰): Could the qualifications of Mubarak, an old friend of the Chinese people, be outdated? Befitting the high-flying international badass class? In the age of the Internet, for reasons everyone knows... the poor sap had no choice but to step down. Let this be a lesson! (October 3, 2014)