Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad said it was unwise for Asean, including Malaysia, to take a confrontational stance against China.
Mahathir said Asean countries may protest China's claim over the South China Sea, but the superpower can easily ignore them.
"That is why Malaysia has a slightly different attitude towards this. We accept that China is a powerful nation and we cannot go to war with China.
"So we need to have some diplomatic ways of negotiating with China," he said in an interview with ThaiPBS on wide-ranging international issues.
Mahathir stressed his appeal to China to keep the South China Sea open to all ships despite the latter's claim over the area.
Asked if this includes US warships, Mahathir said yes, stating there should be no distinction.
However, he noted the US' penchant to provoke China, a position Malaysia does not favour.
"China claims the sea is theirs, including the islands, but why should we provoke them?
"Malaysia also has an island there... the most important thing is the free passage of ships.
"Now there is free passage, but American warships are very prone of provoking the Chinese by sailing near their islands and all that," he said.
Throughout the interview, Mahathir spoke out against resolution through violence.
"Wars are no longer the solution for conflicts because it will be a disaster. The capacity of modern weapons is such that millions can die in a war.
"Already, in the Second World War, seven million people died. Whole countries can be destroyed," he said.
'Trump second term unlikely'
Mahathir also expressed his belief that US president Donald Trump may not survive a second term.
"I think he might lose the second term, in which most of his policies would be thrown out just as he threw out the policies of the previous president, Barack Obama," he said.
Mahathir reiterated his statement that it would be difficult to work with someone like Trump.
"I did tell the press when asked about Trump that it is difficult to work with a man who changes his mind within 24 hours - three times," he said.
On other matters, Mahathir said he looked at Trump's meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un positively, saying there was "good progress".
On Iran, Mahathir believed the US was wrong to terminate its nuclear agreement with the country, pointing out that the US had become isolated, as the European Union wanted to keep the agreement.
He also addressed the issue of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, calling the declaration by Israel that it is a Jewish state similar to apartheid.
"The Arabs living there are becoming second-class citizens - that is a kind of apartheid," he said.
"Asean should intervene in human disasters'
On Myanmar, Mahathir appeared to have softened his stance on non-interference among Asean countries, a position he held on to strongly during his first stint as prime minister from 1981 to 2003.
"It is a good principle not to interfere in the internal affairs of member countries. However, sometimes member countries are not able to help themselves.
"The case of Cambodia for example, when Pol Pot massacred two million people, we stood by and did nothing. It was a human disaster.
"On such issues, we should not be held by our belief in not interfering. (Similarly), we should apply some pressure against Myanmar. This is total injustice and it gives us a bad reputation," he said.
Mahathir was commenting on the massacre of ethnic Rohingya in Myanmar.
Asked who would decide when Asean should interfere and when it should not, Mahathir said it should be done in consultation with all the member countries.