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Youthful contestants speak with a single voice

By CHEN XUE in Guangzhou | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2020-10-09 08:56
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Alexandra Frolova (second from left) from the St. Petersburg State University in Russia displays her trophy during the second Belt and Road Youth English Speaking Competition's qualifying round held in September. MARGARITA MUDRAK/FOR CHINA DAILY

Social distancing became the new normal during the COVID-19 pandemic, but are we really growing further apart from each other? Young people from around the world have given their answers.

The grand final of the China Daily 21st Century Cup International English Speaking Competition and the Second Belt and Road Youth English Speaking Competition concluded at the Baiyun International Conference Center in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, this week.

Six finalists from China, Russia, Afghanistan, the United States, Croatia and Kenya delivered their speeches on the theme "Miles apart, close at heart".

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, contestants couldn't be on the stage in person. However, thanks to modern technology, they were able to deliver their speeches online in front of a panel of judges.

Wen Liu from the United States won the competition and Wu Bojin from China finished first runner-up.

The competition, initiated by China Daily and 21st Century English Education Media last year, aims at helping young people from diverse backgrounds gain a deeper understanding of each other through language and cultural exchanges.

A total of 200 speakers from more than 20 countries took part in this year's event. And, for the first time, the 21st Century Cup held competitions in overseas countries-Afghanistan in January and Russia in September-to determine the finalists.

Wang Wenli, the Chinese consul general in St. Petersburg, Russia, expressed her support for the event in a letter. She said that holding a qualifying round in Russia for the 21st Century Cup was "an invaluable contribution to the promotion of Chinese culture, strengthening the solid foundation of Chinese-Russian relations in the field of cultural and humanitarian cooperation".

This year's event took place against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, a time when communication is needed more than ever. Many contestants wrote their speeches to address the global health crisis.

Wu expressed concerns over the "narrow-mindedness and egocentrism" that some people have exhibited since the pandemic started.

"While the coronavirus has shown us how hard it is to survive in a world struck by the pandemic, it also amplifies some of our dangerous mindsets which prioritize hatred over kindness, discrimination over tolerance, and self-interest over collective benefits," Wu said in his speech.

He said we can "conquer divisions" even though they seem to keep us miles apart. "There are certain values that bind us together and reveal our common humanity-a universal longing to live a life that is free from fear, a life marked by dignity and respect and simple justice," Wu said.

Moraa Joy Michelle from Kenya echoed Wu's opinion. She said that no matter how far we are from each other, and how different we seem to be, we all value the same things that are close to our hearts."Take a look at us now-we are here defying all the odds and holding a global virtual conference connecting thousands of us right here in this moment," she said in her speech.

Harry Patrick Harding, a host from the Guangdong Radio and Television station and a member of the judging panel, said he was surprised that young people of different nationalities and backgrounds were of "one mind" about a lot of things. "When it came to COVID-19, almost all the contestants said that even though we're more physically separated than before, we're now more connected than ever," Harding said.

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