Pentagon chief Leon Panetta announced on Saturday in Singapore that the United States will move the bulk of its naval fleet to Asia and the Pacific region.

The decision is explained as part of the United States’ new strategic focus on Asia and it plan for a network of military partnerships to bolster the world power’s role in the region.

While Panetta emphasized that the move is not meant as a challenge to Beijing, analysts say it reflects Washington’s concern over China’s growing economic and military power.

“By 2020, the Navy will re-posture its forces from today’s roughly 50/50 percent split between the Pacific and the Atlantic to about a 60/40 split between those oceans,” Panetta said. “That will include six aircraft carriers in this region, a majority of our cruisers, destroyers, littoral combat ships, and submarines."

The announcement was made at a meeting of Asian defence officials from 27 countries organized by the London-based Institute of Strategic Studies. China chose not to participate, a departure from previous years.

The official Chinese news agency Xinhua criticized the role that the United States is taking in the region, writing: “"As regards the South China Sea tensions, it is some other claimants, whether emboldened by the United States’ new posture or not, that sparked the fire and have been stoking the flames. It is advisable for some to refrain from muddying the waters and fishing therein.”

The U.S. has already announced the deployment of 2,500 U.S. Marines in northern Australia as part of its Asia strategy, as Asia-Pacific countries steadily increase their military spending.