HONG KONG — The world is quickly realizing how much it depends on China.
Apple is rerouting supply chains. Ikea is closing its stores and paying staff members to stay home. Starbucks is warning of a financial blow. Ford and Toyota will idle some of their vast Chinese assembly plants for an extra week.
On Wednesday, British Airways and Air Canada suspended all flights to mainland China, and Delta joined the growing number of carriers reducing service. Japan’s leaders are bracing for a possible hit and the Federal Reserve is “very carefully monitoring” the situation. Hotels and tour operators across Asia are watching fearfully as the world’s largest source of tourism dollars tightens its borders.
The mysterious coronavirus that has killed more than a hundred people and sickened thousands has virtually shut down one of the world’s most important growth engines. Desperate to slow the fast-moving virus, the Chinese authorities have extended the country’s national holiday to Feb. 3, and crippled land, rail and air transport. Entire cities have shut down.
An impoverished nation just four decades ago, China has become an essential part of the modern global industrial machine. It alone accounts for roughly one-sixth of global economic output, and is the world’s largest manufacturer.
China’s importance goes beyond what it makes. Its consumers buy more cars and smartphones than anybody else. When they go abroad, Chinese tourists spend $258 billion a year, according to the World Tourism Organization, nearly twice what Americans spend.
But it has become so crucial to the operations of American companies that some members of the Trump administration cited that dependence as a justification for the trade war that began two years ago, an economic conflict that is forcing businesses to consider shifting their factories in China to countries with better relations with Washington.
Global companies were reconsidering their China strategies even before the trade war started. China’s labor costs are rising, local companies are increasingly competitive and the government has become less accommodating. Still, its skilled worker base, extensive highway and rail systems and vast consumer market make China tough to quit.
“What is clear is that businesses were already reeling from multiple sources of uncertainty,” said Sameer Samana, senior global market strategist at Wells Fargo Investment Institute. “It’s one more thing,” he added.
The full extent of the hit to the broader business world is not yet clear. The obvious comparison is to the deadly SARS outbreak 17 years ago, which began in China and killed hundreds globally. In early 2003, SARS slowed China’s growth substantially.
“There will clearly be implications, at least in the near term, for Chinese output,” the Federal Reserve chair, Jerome H. Powell, said during a news conference on Wednesday. “We just have to see what the effect is globally.”
Most of China had already been shut down since at least Friday for the annual Lunar New Year holiday, a weeklong nationwide hiatus. But with the outbreak showing no signs of slowing, many companies are already preparing for a longer slowdown.
“Our members are dealing with varying degrees of disruption in their businesses, including supply chain issues, temporary closings of some retail outlets and factories, and other challenges,” said Jake Parker, the senior vice president of the US-China Business Council, which represents major companies. If travel restrictions and quarantines are expanded or the holiday extended further, he said, “that will amplify these problems.”
Many companies are now looking for temporary stopgaps.
Automakers like General Motors and Nissan plan to close their factories until the week of Feb. 3 to comply with the longer mandated holiday, while Toyota and Ford said this week that they would close some of their factories a week longer than that because of virus-related disruptions. Companies like G.M., Honeywell, Facebook and Bloomberg restricted travel for employees in China and established their own self-quarantine measures.
On Tuesday, the Seattle-based coffee company Starbucks said it had closed more than half of its 4,292 stores in China, its second-biggest market after the United States, and said it would take a quarterly and full-year financial hit.
Tim Cook, the chief executive of Apple, said on Tuesday that the iPhone maker was looking for alternative suppliers to “make up for any expected production loss.” Foxconn, a Taiwanese company with an extensive network of factories in China that make gadgets on behalf of Apple and others, said its factories would continue to follow the new holiday schedule, which in some cases meant keeping operations closed until Feb. 10.
Apple is not the only company that has had to pivot quickly. Just last week, executives of Honeywell, the American engineering company, traveled to Wuhan for a ceremony related to its plans to open an innovation headquarters. Two days later, Wuhan was put under lockdown by the authorities. Honeywell has since restricted travel to certain parts of China.
Wuhan in particular appeals to major companies because it is a major national transport hub. The auto industry, including General Motors, Honda, Nissan and many others, have set up shop there, and many of their suppliers have followed. It is the home to more than one third of all French investment in China.
On Monday, PSA Group, the French automaker, said it had set up crisis communications between Wuhan and its Paris headquarters to determine the potential impact on production. The company employs about 2,000 people in Wuhan through its joint venture and was evacuating 38 expatriates.
The Swedish retail giant Ikea, which employs 14,000 people in China, said on Thursday it would temporarily close all of its 30 stores in the country. Employees at the stores will be asked to stay home with paid leave until further notice.
It is not clear how quickly businesses will bounce back. During the SARS outbreak, some factories paid higher wages to bring workers back and get factories humming again.
Right now, businesses do not know enough to make those kinds of plans.
Cummins, an Indiana company that makes engines and generators, does not know whether it will be able to open its seven sites in Wuhan after the Feb. 3 holiday extension because the city remains under lockdown. The facilities make fuel and power systems for rail and marine industries.
“Literally, we are evaluating on an ongoing basis in real time,” said Jon Mills, a spokesman for Cummins, “and I imagine other places are in the same position as we are.”
Ford, which does not have any operations in Wuhan, said several of its major plants would nevertheless be idled until Feb. 10. A spokesman declined to disclose further details. The factories in four cities churn out nearly half a million vehicles a year, or an average of 9,400 cars a week.
Businesses in other countries are also trying to determine the impact.
“If the situation takes longer to subside, we’re concerned it could hurt Japanese exports, output and corporate profits,” Yasutoshi Nishimura, Japan’s minister of state for economic and fiscal policy, told a group of reporters this week. Chinese visitors account for about 30 percent of all foreign tourists, and Chinese companies are major buyers of Japanese-made components, like semiconductors and lenses.
In Thailand, Chinese sightseers spend nearly $18 billion annually, totaling about a quarter of tourist spending.
“Chinese tourists are the No. 1 tourists to Thailand,” said Yuthasak Supasorn, the governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand. He added that the government was exploring ways to compensate business owners who had lost money from the drop in tourists over the past few weeks. The government was even considering reducing parking fees for airlines and excise tax on jet fuel to lure more tourists, he said.
Anan Buates, 45, runs a business driving tourists. Chinese tourists are crucial to his business. So he grew alarmed when tour operators started making last-minute cancellations as the coronavirus emerged. Then, last week, China canceled overseas group tours.
“It’s their right and it’s their policy to prevent the spreading of the coronavirus,” Mr. Anan said. Still, he knows he faces a daunting challenge.
“We survive the whole year because they come the whole year.”
Reporting was contributed by Eimi Yamamitsu from Tokyo, Ryn Jirenuwat from Bangkok, Cao Li from Hong Kong, Geneva Abdul from London, Jeanna Smialek from Washington, and Matt Phillips from New York.
Jessica Simpson has revealed that she was sexually abused as a child, and that it led to a dependence on drugs and alcohol as an adult.
The pop star, actor and shoe mogul writes in her new memoir that she was “killing myself with all the drinking and pills”, and only sought treatment after hitting “rock-bottom” in 2017. She has been sober ever since.
In Open Book, Simpson theorises that her addictions stemmed from trauma related to being abused by the daughter of a family friend from the age of six.
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“It would start with tickling my back and then go into things that were extremely uncomfortable,” she writes, in an extract published by People Magazine. “For six years, I was abused by this girl during our family’s visits.”
Simpson says that she eventually told her parents about the abuse, but added that despite being the victim, “I felt in the wrong”.
“We never stayed at my parents’ friends’ house again, but we also didn’t talk about what I had said,” she writes.
Simpson also reveals that she has struggled with anxiety since her teens, and that she was placed on a strict diet after being told by managers that she must lose weight in order to become a star.
“On my 17th birthday, I flew to New York for meetings with record labels,” she writes. “I sang ‘Amazing Grace’ for Tommy Mottola at Columbia and he wanted to sign me. And then he said, ‘You gotta lose 15 pounds.”
“I immediately went on an extremely strict diet, and started taking diet pills,” she continues, “which I would do for the next 20 years.”
Simpson’s memoir additionally sees her recall her shock after former boyfriend John Mayer referred to her as “sexual napalm” in a career-destroying magazine interview.
I left the screening of Beautiful Boy yesterday in tears. I’ve never cried so much at a film, throughout, and then afterwards, in a stairwell on the bleak, cold streets of Soho. It was the rawest and most authentic portrayal of active addiction and alcoholism I’ve ever seen and brought me back vividly to my own terrifying experience and the enormous relief of finding a way out.
Beautiful Boy is a true story told from two perspectives: a son battling drug addiction, Nic Sheff, played by Timothée Chalamet, and his father, the journalist David Sheff, played by Steve Carell (who’s swiftly becoming one of the all-time greats). Really, it’s a horror film, on multiple levels. “When you become a parent, you are perpetually living in fear of something bad happening to them,” Carell said on Radio 4’s Front Row this week. “It’s beyond scary. It’s almost incomprehensible to see your kid spiralling out of control and having no recourse.”
The film’s portrayal of the hurtling, out-of-control nature of addiction rang very true for me. By the end, Nic’s life is as terrifying and uncontrollable as the huge waves he surfs in. Active addiction is a living hell.
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My own problems with addiction began early. I got drunk for the first time when I was 12 and I liked it from the get-go. It was at a school choir concert and my parents weren’t at the reception before, so I was at liberty to sneak glasses of warm, piss-yellow wine from the table and drink them in the bathroom. When I got home, I was so drunk I fell down the stairs. Later, I looked in the mirror and thought, this is it, I want more of this. I had discovered a safe place, a warm blanket of protection that meant I could escape. I didn’t realise I was starting to lose myself. Then followed 15 years of alcoholic drinking and drug use with increasingly painful consequences and mental health problems. Eventually, when I tried to stop, I found myself trapped: the danger was now manifesting in different ways.
Beautiful Boy is not a linear narrative, because stories of addiction and recovery rarely are: Nic accepts treatment, clocks up clean days, then relapses again and again, with the consequences becoming worse and worse. We see the father’s evolution from quiet, brooding confusion and bewilderment, trying to figure out who his son is by leafing through the books in his room and looking at his posters of Metallica and Nirvana and Bowie, via anger and panic, to acceptance and grief. He has the roving eyes of a sentinel, always staring at his son anxiously, obsessively, desperate to protect his beloved boy.
This dual perspective brings the characters to life with empathy for both sides. We see Nic’s selfishness and the terror and destruction he puts his family through but we also witness his pain and fundamental discomfort with being alive. It offers an astute portrait of the emotional and mental state people who become addicts often start with: a feeling of unease, lack of comfort in one’s own skin, self-loathing. “It takes the edge off things,” as the young Nic tries to explain.
I experienced the same thing. Like others who become overly fond of alcohol, I was sensitive to surroundings, sudden change, bright lights, loud noises, prickly jumpers, arguments, lack of sleep, interactions, thoughts, guilt. From young adolescence, I drank to regulate my emotional state and ease the flatness and tension of depressive episodes.
It worked for a while and took me to friends, fun, laughter, music, dance and relief. Later it took me to carelessness, hopelessness and a lack of self-regard. It took on a life of its own and I became an automaton at the behest of my next fix: alcohol, cocaine, MDMA, ketamine, although it was cocaine that brought me to my knees, the Miracle-Gro on my alcoholism.
Physical and mental health, financial and relationship problems mounted, although I was adept at hiding much of my behaviour and inner angst from my family. I had started drinking in secret at a young age. Towards the end it took me to places of blurred, blackout danger. Most were self-destructive but on one occasion a harmful incident with a stranger frightened me enough to try to get help. I started to see a psychiatrist and psychotherapist and there followed a couple of years of trying and failing to stop week after week with the consequences of each relapse becoming more depressing and frightening. When you find yourself in a cemetery in New Orleans contemplating scoring crack cocaine from a man in a dressing gown, you know it’s time to stop.
Gradually, the penny started to drop and I realised – with horror – that I was utterly powerless to get sober and drug-free on my own. I entered a rehabilitation programme in April 2012 after a particularly self-destructive binge. It has taken hours of attendance and “work” alongside the help of medicine and psychotherapy but bar a relapse in the first few weeks, I have been sober and clean since then.
One of the misconceptions of addiction is that it is a moral failing, or a choice, or a sign of weakness. Society thus sees it as a shameful thing, which cloaks it in stigma, to be swept under the carpet or treated with a stiff upper lip or by the criminal justice system, rather than being treated as the health matter and illness it truly is. The image of addiction is starting to evolve – The New York Times recently apologised for demonising mothers during the 1990s crack epidemic – from the idea that addicts are bad, deficient, self-indulgent people who don’t deserve resources or treatment towards a more sympathetic outlook but a lack of understanding remains.
Films like Beautiful Boy and science-based education and media can challenge these misconceptions. Simply put: some people can take drugs and drink without becoming addicts; others experience a phenomenon of craving which is akin to an allergic reaction. There is nothing moral about it.
There are many truths in the film that differ from the way people sometimes think about addiction. For a start, addiction doesn’t discriminate. “This is not us; this is not who we are,” says David Sheff in the film, speaking to the idea that a middle-class, professional family shouldn’t produce a son who becomes addicted to drugs. But it doesn’t work like that. Partly, there is a genetic basis, and there are many other potential risk factors: age of first use, untreated trauma, learning disabilities and psychological troubles, an overactive amygdala, family stress.
We walk alongside David as he researches and begins to understand the science of addiction and that his child is self-medicating. The film mentions briefly the biological basis of addiction, and how damage of nerve endings causes the user to need more and more. But it also – and this was a crucial note of hope in the treatment I received – talks about neuroplasticity, that those fried nerve endings can grow back, that you can recover and live freely.
From the other perspective, David reaches a resolution of sorts when he accepts that he can’t, ultimately, help his son. “I don’t think you can save people,” says his wife. Another truth. The acceptance that David can’t cure or control his son’s addiction is a blessed relief for the viewer.
Of course, addiction – and mental illness in general – can be frightening and confusing for people with little experience of it but the more we learn and talk about the nuances of it, the fact it is everywhere, often starts young, and most of us will know someone who suffers from it, the more chance we have of better prevention and treatment.
Considering the opioid epidemic in the US and rising levels of mental health problems in children and “deaths of despair” in the UK, there is an urgent need to focus on how to prevent and mitigate the social problems and risk factors that could lead to addiction. Punishment and stigma clearly aren’t working. Empathy, compassion and knowledge are needed.
Before I hit rock bottom, I thought an alcoholic was just someone who sloshed vodka on their cornflakes or a street drunk drinking whisky out of a paper bag. I thought a drug addict was someone who used needles. If we are more open about addiction and mental illness, we will become better at treating problems earlier on, and more adept at spotting when young people are drinking in a self-medicating way. But to do this, we need to talk about it more, which is why films like Beautiful Boy need to be made. In my recovering I’ve found that it is ultimately connection and sharing with other people in the same boat that has saved my life. There is help out there, for both sides.
To find out about support services for drug-related issues, visit addaction.org.uk