BEIJING (AFP) - China paid tribute to late anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela on Friday, calling him an "old friend of the Chinese people" who "won the respect and love of people all over the world".
In a statement, foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei expressed "deep condolences" to the South African government and people, and offered the family of the Nobel laureate "sincere solicitude".
"Mr Mandela is a famous leader of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, the founder of the new South Africa and also a prominent world-renowned politician," he said.
"He was not only revered as the 'father of the state' by South African people, but also won the respect and love of people all over the world.
"Mr Mandela is an old friend of the Chinese people, he made a historic contribution to the establishment and development of relations between China and South Africa." During the struggle against apartheid the Chinese Communist Party supported the Pan African Congress, a rival to Mandela's Moscow-backed ANC, and it was not until 1998, four years into his presidential term, that diplomatic ties were established.
News of the death led major Chinese web portals and was a top topic on the country's weibo microblog networks.
"A great man passed away," wrote one poster. "Mandela is great because he persisted with fighting in a non-violent way despite facing an unfair world, promoted reconciliation, not revenge, between different ethnic groups after gaining power, and gave up power... He was a man with real sense of mission - the kind of person China is currently lacking."