Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Friday said the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries should follow China's example to boost the regional economy while voicing strong support for free trade.

"ASEAN has got 650 million people, half the population of China. Yet, we don't have even half the strength of China," said the 94-year-old politician, adding "we must learn how to exploit that population."

"We should try and learn from China how to develop our countries fast by cooperating with each other," said Mahathir, while answering a question about an agreement on Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership that ASEAN has been pushing for some time.

"Working together is always useful," he said.

Prior to the press conference, Mahathir delivered a speech at the ongoing General Debate of the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly, together with other world leaders and high-level national representatives.

Speaking about trade wars, Mahathir said they were "wasteful" and would negate the potential for all to become rich.

Talking about the sanctions being imposed on some countries, Mahathir said it was not known under what law such sanctions were applied.

"The fact is that when sanction is applied to a country, other countries get sanctioned as well. Malaysia and many others lost a big market when sanction is applied on Iran," the prime minister said.

Source: China ASEAN Business Council