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When was the last time a US president sought to destroy a national corporate champion? Over the past week Donald Trump has fulminated against Amazon in a series of tweets accusing the company of paying “little or no taxes”, using the US postal service as its “delivery boy” and putting thousands of retailers out of business. Amazon’s share price dropped fast, leaving founder Jeff Bezos $16bn poorer.

But there is more at stake here than the personal fortune of the world’s richest man, argues Edward Luce in his latest column. The president’s war against Mr Bezos looks like part of a wider and more sinister strategy to discredit his enemies in the US media. Mr Bezos bought the Washington Post in 2013 and the newspaper has been one of the Trump administration’s fiercest critics.

By attacking the Post and its peers, Mr Trump is doing what populists always do, says Ed. Whether in Victor Orban’s Hungary or Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey, they target and intimidate independent media organisations that stand against them. We should not assume that America is any different. 

Who’s the boss? The global financial crisis blew up a number of accepted notions in the business world, writes Michael Skapinker — not least the idea that companies should serve shareholder interests first. But the lessons of the crash seem lost in Melrose Industries’ hostile takeover of GKN, which was decided by a swing vote of shareholders who were short-term speculators out to make a quick return. That was a mistake, says Mike. A company’s first duty should be to its customers, as Melrose may soon discover.

Dealing with the deficit: 
The US seems ready to stoke a trade war over a current account deficit it describes as “unfair”. But in reality, argues Megan Greene, fairness doesn’t come into it. Rather than complaining about other countries causing the deficit, the US government should look at it as an accounting problem. Reducing it will require tough choices over how the country should address its internal imbalances.

Free trade for the future:
While the US and China are busy slapping tariffs on each other’s steel, pork and wine, the future of global trade looks rather brighter in Africa, notes David Pilling. Forty four African nations signed up to a continent-wide agreement last month that will cut tariffs to zero on 90 per cent of imports. Intra-Africa trade may have got off to a slow start, but it could unlock the continent's potential.

Best of the rest

The truth about violent crime in London — Anoosh Chakelian in the New Statesman

Speed Kills: Silicon Valley’s obsession with rapid growth — Will Oremus on Slate.com 

NHS SOS — James Meek in the London Review of Books

Don’t Fix Facebook. Replace It — Tim Wu in the New York Times

The real and disheartening danger of the Sinclair story — Kathleen Parker in the Washington Post

What you’ve been saying

Direct flights deleverage the hub economic model — letter from Matt Andersson

Airport administrative authorities and operators . . . have an incentive to promote hub use, as such facilities have become significant investment and economic centres, generating tax and fee income, including to government, and in the case of privatised airports, to investors . . . Such airports are also significant labour centres, where the processing of flight and ground operations is an effective jobs programme. Direct flights deleverage the entire hub economic model. That is, they make less use of all the fixed and expensive assets there.

Comment from eddie reader on The Chinese economy is rebalancing, at last

Chinese consumers face problems a dictatorship cannot manage. China has already lost a huge amount of water supplies and a great deal of what is left is severely polluted. The shortage is worsening because China’s water is disappearing . . . People who cannot even get clean water are not going to be happy with a political system incapable of change.

Activist companies sell their vision of the world — letter from Mark Eisinger

From climate change to gun rights, corporations are taking the lead. Take, for example, the decision by leading car manufacturers Volvo and Fiat Chrysler to phase out internal combustion engines and diesel cars respectively from their catalogues; by Axa, Scor and Zurich to limit coverage for new coal mining projects; or by US retailers to restrict access to assault-style rifles. The resurgence in business activism offers yet another example of the abdication by politicians to drive meaningful change. But there is no substitute for legislative action — and ceding control to corporations leaves executives selling not just products but also visions of the world.

Today’s opinion

FT View: The dangerous game of Sino-American tit-for-tat
A substantive offer from China could head off further escalation

Lex: Smith & Nephew: shoot from the hip
New chief needs to make marked improvements if he is to resist pressure to sell

The three legal paths to stop Brexit are blocked
Remainers should now look to what happens after 29 March 2019

How free trade could unlock Africa’s potential
The case for more intra-regional commerce is clear

Any method of reducing the US current account deficit is risky
The language of morality tempts America into unnecessary and costly trade wars

Donald Trump’s war on Jeff Bezos is more than just bluster
The president’s attacks look like part of a wider strategy to hurt independent media

Instant Insight: WPP’s Martin Sorrell is no longer in control of his story
Misconduct allegations open a crack in the edifice the chief executive built

Air travel in Pakistan is a journey to the 1950s
Flying in the country is a pleasure compared with India, but there are downsides

FT Alphaville: What’s up with Portugal? 

Customers should have come first in the GKN battle
Airbus’s comments about the Melrose takeover should have given those involved pause

Instant Insight: Tim Cook v Mark Zuckerberg exposes rifts in Big Tech
Apple chief’s war of words with Facebook head will do neither group any good

FT View

FT View: Donald Trump’s grudge against Amazon and Jeff Bezos
The US needs antitrust enforcement, it is getting a political vendetta

The Big Read

The Big Read: Made in Japan: can handcrafted glasses survive an automated world? The fortunes of Fukui’s eyewear industry offer a window into a country grappling with its future

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