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China splurging on armed forces as US begins defense cuts, raising uncertainty in Asia-Pacific

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    FILE - In this Tuesday, March 31, 2009 file photo, soldiers from the People's Liberation Army (PLA) 6th Armored Division carries the Chinese type 97 semi-auto machine guns march at their military base on the outskirts of Beijing. China’s boosted defense spending this year grew 12.2 percent to $132 billion, continuing more than two decades of nearly unbroken double-digit percentage increases that have afforded Beijing the means to potentially alter the balance of power in the Asia-Pacific. Outside observers put China’s actual defense spending significantly higher, although estimates vary widely. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)The Associated Press

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    FILE - In this Tuesday, July 24, 2012 file photo, Chinese soldiers run near a Z-9WZ attack helicopter, designed and manufactured by China, after a flight demonstration for press at a base of Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Army Aviation 4th Helicopter Regiment, ahead of Army Day on Aug. 1, on the outskirts of Beijing. China’s boosted defense spending this year grew 12.2 percent to $132 billion, continuing more than two decades of nearly unbroken double-digit percentage increases that have afforded Beijing the means to potentially alter the balance of power in the Asia-Pacific. Outside observers put China’s actual defense spending significantly higher, although estimates vary widely. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)The Associated Press

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    In this April 23, 2009 photo, Chinese Navy helicopters and 528 warship attend an international fleet review to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Liberation Army Navy in the water off Qingdao of Shandong Province, China. China’s boosted defense spending this year grew 12.2 percent to $132 billion, continuing more than two decades of nearly unbroken double-digit percentage increases that have afforded Beijing the means to potentially alter the balance of power in the Asia-Pacific. Outside observers put China’s actual defense spending significantly higher, although estimates vary widely. (AP Photo/Guang Niu, Pool)The Associated Press

China commissioned 17 new warships last year, the most of any nation. In a little more than a decade, China is expected to have three aircraft carriers, giving it more clout than ever in a region of contested seas and festering territorial disputes.

While Beijing still lags far behind the U.S. in both funding and technology, its spending boom is attracting new scrutiny at a time of severe cuts in U.S. defense budgets that have some questioning Washington's commitments to its Asian allies.

Beijing's newfound military clout is one of many issues confronting President Barack Obama on a visit to Asia this week. Washington is faced with the daunting task of fulfilling its treaty obligations to allies such as Japan and the Philippines, while also maintaining cordial relations with China.