BEIJING, Dec. 20 (Xinhua) -- Lawrence Lau, former vice president of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, still vividly remembers his trip to the Chinese mainland in 1979.
"I saw fried dough sticks and baked sesame seed cakes along the streets. They looked fairly tasty and were only five cents each," Lau recalled. "But the vendors wouldn't allow me to buy them because I didn't have any food coupons."
For some decades, ration coupons were needed for many necessities and household items in China as the country suffered a shortage of food and materials. With progress from the reform and opening-up, they have gradually become part of history.
Lau said China's fast growth since the reform and opening-up is unexpected. "I once estimated the annual GDP increase to be 8 percent, but it turned out to be above 10 percent in many years. This is extraordinary."
A senior economist, Lau was among 40 global politicians, scholars, and entrepreneurs who attended the third Understanding China Conference in Beijing this week.
Reform and opening-up is a focal point of discussion as this year's conference coincided with a key gathering to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the drive that has changed the destiny of China and hundreds of millions of its people.
Graham Allison, founding dean of Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, used the word "miracle" to describe China's poverty reduction efforts.
Allison said China has set a successful example for poverty reduction in the world. "If I have to choose the best of China's countless achievements, I would choose poverty reduction."
The poverty rate had fallen among the rural population from 97.5 percent in 1978 to 3.1 percent at the end of 2017, according to the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development.
Other sources show in the past five years, over 68 million people have been lifted above the poverty line -- defined as per capita annual income lower than 2,100 yuan (about 334 U.S. dollars).
"The 40th anniversary is an opportunity to shed light on the amazing things that China has accomplished," said Dawn Nakagawa, executive vice president of the Berggruen Institute, a think tank.
"No other country has achieved consecutive years of growth, at levels that are so high," said Gordon Brown, former prime minister of the United Kingdom.
Evan Spiegel, 28, is one of the youngest participants at the conference. "I came here again trying to understand China's long-term vision."
"China's progress since starting the reform and opening-up is unbelievable and inspiring for the world," said Spiegel, co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Snap Inc.
Going forward, how China will continue to comprehensively deepen reform and open wider to the world has attracted much attention.
From the Boao Forum for Asia annual conference to the China International Import Expo, China announced measures including substantially easing market access, creating a more attractive investment environment, strengthening intellectual property protection and actively expanding imports.
George Papandreou, former prime minister of Greece, told Xinhua that China has shown "determination and interest to continue to cooperate with the world."
Nathan Gardels, co-founder and senior advisor to the Berggruen Institute, said openness brings the world and China a new opportunity to enhance mutual understanding.
Looking ahead, China has bright prospects in promoting the service industry, self-driven innovation, and green development, said Stephen Roach, a senior fellow at Yale University.
Peace and development remain the themes of the time. China is ready to work with other countries to build a community with a shared future for humanity and make greater contributions to world development.
"China is an important global player willing to give a helping hand when there are difficult problems and crisis to deal with," Papandreou said.
Over the last ten years, China handled the international financial crisis through close cooperation with other parts of the world, stabilizing the global economy, he said.
Papandreou cited China-Greece cooperation on Piraeus, a Greek port, as a story of success. "This shows the potential of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)."
"I believe the BRI will soon become the biggest peace project in this century and will bring in new forms of global governance," Papandreou told Xinhua.
Dai Min, president of the Center for America China Partnership, said the BRI is a great project for China to share its success with the world.
"China is a partner engaging the international community in solving problems," said Helle Thorning-Schmidt, former prime minister of Denmark. "Dialogue is the key to a prosperous and peaceful world for all of us. Together we are interdependent, and we share the same destiny."