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
In official parlance, these are world leaders who have visited China and shown their support for the country. The “friends” most discussed by netizens include Muammar Qaddafi, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Bashar al-Assad.
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 the outpouring of official condolences. The main point of their concern was that the government lowered flags to half-mast for the foreign political figure, while failing to make any similar demonstrations of sympathy for the many Chinese who had died in natural disasters and accidents during that time period.
There are other levels of friendship in Chinese diplomacy for countries, including all-weather friend (Pakistan).
Despite the general use of “old friend of the Chinese people” to describe dictators, Xi Jinping previously used the phrase to describe the departing U.S. ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, anticipating that he might run for President.