(Bloomberg) -- The leaders of five Central Asian countries will attend the opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics in a tacit show of support for China as a U.S.-led diplomatic boycott and a growing Covid-19 epidemic threaten to mar the games.

The heads of states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan look forward to coming to Beijing next week, state broadcaster CCTV reported, citing a virtual summit held with Xi Jinping to commemorate 30 years of diplomatic relations. So far, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been one of the few world leaders to commit to attending the event, which the Chinese leader has lavished billions of dollars on to showcase his nation’s superpower status to the world.

Xi pledged to offer 50 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines to the five countries this year, and $500 million in aid within the next three years. He also called for the gradual resumption of passenger flights between the regions, and to establish “fast tracks” and “green lanes” to facilitate the movement of people and goods, respectively, without elaborating on the programs. 

China is currently struggling to contain an outbreak that has spread to the country’s northeastern provinces and Hebei, which adjoins Beijing. The Chinese capital has reported a combined 67 local Covid cases since Jan. 15, including six from the omicron variant and 61 from the delta variant.

Three Powers

During the meeting, he also said China will work with the five countries to crack down on the so-called “three powers,” meaning terrorists, extremists, and separatists, as well as deepen cooperation on border controls and ensure the region’s security, CCTV reported.

Last month, Xi backed Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s violent crackdown on protesters, after an unknown number of demonstrators died in clashes over rising fuel prices, discontent regarding living standards and widespread corruption.

The five Central Asian countries flank China’s western reaches, making their security crucial to the ruling Communist Party’s efforts to prevent terrorist groups, the coronavirus and general unrest spilling over its borders. 

Xi stressed the importance of ensuring the “steady operation” of oil and gas pipelines in the region, and called for the swift construction of Line D of the China-Central Asia Gas Pipeline. Earlier this month, he asked nations to secure global supply chains at the World Economic Forum, citing rising commodity prices and energy crunches as global economic risks. 

China is always a good neighbor and good partner of central Asian nations and “strongly supports countries to protect their sovereignty, independence, and territory,” Xi said. 

(Updates with details on energy and transport links.)

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