A dock worker wearing a face mask to prevent the spread of the coronavirus watches an oil tanker unload crude oil at a port in Qingdao, Shandong province, China, March 26, 2020. Photo: China Daily

Imagine: A Chinese-flagged super tanker bound for the mainland has just turned off its automatic identification system to hide an Iranian oil shipment in violation of US sanctions.

Passing through the narrow Strait of Malacca, just off of Singapore, where some 80% of China’s fuel imports pass, however, provides little protection from the prying eyes of a US navy destroyer which has been shadowing the maritime area for weeks.

As the US warship positions itself to block the Chinese tanker, the vessel maneuvers and presses on, calling in assistance from nearby Chinese naval assets strategically placed across a string of nearby South China Sea military installations.