- Associated Press - Monday, May 5, 2014

BEIJING (AP) - A Chinese court has convicted a man of spying and sentenced him to 10 years in prison for leaking classified military documents to a foreign spy who also approached more than 50 other people around China, state media said Monday.

The official China Daily newspaper said on its website that the man stole secret military documents and transferred photographs and other useful information to the foreign party. It did not say to which foreign governments the information may have been transferred, and didn’t cite sources for its report.

The China Daily and other official media identified the suspect by the surname Li. They said the recipient of the documents was named Feige, but gave no other information about the person.

The newspaper said Li also gathered information about military bases in the southern province of Guangdong, home to China’s southern fleet that oversees operations in the sensitive South China Sea. The report said Feige also contacted 12 other people in Guangdong, as well as 40 other people in the rest of China, but didn’t specify whether those people had provided information.

Interest in the aims of China’s booming military spending has grown in recent years, particularly among officials in the U.S., the region’s primary military power. Taiwan, which China has threatened to use force against to bring it under its control, and Japan are also close observers of China’s defense outlays.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she had no information about the report. Such cases are usually handled in secret with little information released about them to the public.

While China’s military still lags far behind the U.S. in both funding and technology, its spending boom comes as American defense budgets are being slashed, leaving some nations to question Washington’s commitment to its Asian allies, including some which have lingering disputes with China.

President Barack Obama sought to reassure allies such as Japan and the Philippines during a swing through the region last week. Washington is attempting to maintain those relationships while also sustaining cordial ties with China, a key economic partner and rising regional power.

China’s official defense spending this year grew 12.2 percent to $132 billion, continuing more than two decades of nearly unbroken double-digit percentage increases.

That has given China the second largest defense budget after the U.S. and has afforded it with the means to alter the balance of power in the Asia-Pacific. Outside observers put China’s actual defense spending significantly higher, although estimates vary widely.

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