This article examines China’s engagement with South Sudan between December 2013, when conflict broke out again in the world’s newest independent state, and August 2015, when a deal supposed to end the fighting was formally signed. It argues that China’s engagement came to be dominated by a closely related combination of political and security concerns founded in, but going beyond, its economic interests and associated investment protection imperatives. In this way, South Sudan has been the site of an evolving, experimental and more proactive Chinese political and security engagement. For China, this represents a notable departure in its peace and security engagement in Sub-Saharan Africa. At the same time, China’s role, like other external actors in South Sudan, has been partly constitutive of but very much subordinated to the politics of armed conflict. China sought to practically negotiate a challenging dilemma concerning the relationship between peace, economic development and conflict.