The wide range and high level of the people targeted has sent shockwaves through the business community in Vietnam, domestic and foreign. Kickbacks, bribes, and fraudulent accounting are systemic in Vietnam, and not just among domestically-owned companies. Indeed, as many of those arrested on suspicion of economic crimes have disappeared from view, and rumors swirl about who could be next, some senior executives have felt compelled to appear in public just to prove that they haven't been caught in the net.
Keen to revitalize Vietnam's image as a successful emerging market, some foreign investors and international donors have asserted that these arrests are a reassuring sign that the Party is trying to get its house in order. But that's a stretch: As the British political scientist Martin Gainsborough (who's written extensively on the country), has argued, crackdowns on corruption in Vietnam are typically related to infighting within a system that is driven more by patronage than policy.
China has been facing similar imperatives to fight corruption and restructure its economy. But, setting aside the intrigues surrounding Bo Xilai and the recent outcry over the reported wealth of other top leaders, China's Communists have proved far more adept at re-inventing themselves for the modern era than their Vietnamese comrades.
Richard McGregor, the former Beijing bureau chief for the Financial Times, has concluded that the Chinese Communist Party has morphed into a large, powerful Ivy League-style networking club for those who want to get ahead. In Vietnam, by contrast, the party and the government are hemorrhaging their best assets. Young people have been quitting by the thousands, frustrated by the low salaries and the old-fashioned hierarchy. Real ideology, as opposed to vapid slogans, is notably absent in Vietnam today.
Many observers like to argue that Vietnamese officials have a unique ability to muddle through without facing up to systemic crises -- a talent that has been found lacking in almost every other transition country, from Indonesia to Argentina. But this reliance on improvisation seems to have become part of the problem. "The Party displays an extraordinary ability to adapt, but has tended to react to challenges [only] when they came," wrote Tuong Vu, a political scientist at the University of Oregon. "This reactive mentality has not helped the party to stem corruption and decay, which now reach the top level."