EAST Asia, like East Europe and the Balkans, is home to many stateless nations - peoples who have lost sovereignty and are part of larger political entities. Concern that a "new world order" may cast present political boundaries in cement is prompting struggles by these little-known groups for autonomy or complete independence.The crumbling USSR is confronted by strong national awareness movements throughout the northeast. The most prominent is the Kurile Islands, a part of Japan annexed by Stalin in 1945. A similar problem is Sakhalin Island, where autonomy is sought by many nations. One, the 4,000-strong Nivkhi, played a major role in organizing the "Numerically Smaller Nations of the USSR." In 1990 these nations created the Association of Far North Peoples to defend against Russification and environmental destruction. The Yakut claim to ownership of all natural resources on their land is an example of newfound political strength among the northern nations. Meanwhile, autonomy is the goal of both the Chukchis, living on the extreme east edge of Asia, and of the Koryats on Kamchatka Peninsula. The Association of Far North Peoples is pressing the Kremlin and Russia to ratify the 1957 Convention on Protection and Integration of Native Populations in Independent Countries and the 1989 UN Convention on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries. The treaties give rights to ownership of "native lands" to stateless nations. China is also a mosaic of nationalities. Along with intra-Sino ethnic feuds (Hunan, Fukien, Shantung, etc.), conflicts between the central government and non-Sino peoples have mushroomed in recent years. Manchuria, in northeastern China, is a wealthy area that has not forgotten it was sovereign, most recently from 1932 to 1945. Tension in Harbin is fueled when the central government uses this wealth to finance backward regions of sprawling China. Meanwhile, China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, a Mongol- populated territory, would like to reunite with Mongolia (formerly Outer Mongolia), a nation that recently emerged from the clutches of communism. Southwest of Inner Mongolia lies Turkic-peopled Sinkiang, where the Uighurs staged a major uprising in 1990. This desert area is also claimed by the Greater Turkestani Movement, a pan-Turkic organization that dreams of uniting all of Central Asia by joining Sinkiang with the five Turkic nations of the USSR (Kazakhstan, Kirghizia, Tadzhikistan, Turkestan, and Uzbekistan). Southeast of Sinkiang lies Tibet, a mountainous republic invaded by China in 1950 and the site of many revolts. SECESSIONISM also threatens to tear apart Myanmar (Burma). The well-armed Karen people control huge areas below Rangoon, while the Assamis in the west want unification with Assam, a province of India. At the southeast tip of the Asian continent lies multi-ethnic Malaysia. It already has lost Singapore, now a prosperous city state. Kuala Lumpur's control of Sabah (north Borneo) is possible only through virtual martial law. Secessionist movements are active throughout the Philippines, an island chain lacking a sense of nation-statehood. Mindanao, the southernmost island, has been under de facto control of Muslim rebels for quite some time. The separatist issues are exacerbated by armed Marcoists and communist terrorists. Manila is now virtually powerless in areas outside of direct military control. On the southern end of east Asia lies Indonesia, a multi-ethnic kaleidoscope of nations pasted together by the Netherlands during the era of colonialism. The island chain is a tropical Habsburg Empire. The Aceh want a sovereign state on Sumatra while the Celebes Islands seethe with South Moluccan dissent. Jakarta's problems are complicated by having annexed other colonial territories. West Irian, a former Dutch colony acquired in 1969, seeks union with Papua New Guinea. Moreover, a bloody war for independence has been waged on Timor by the East Timorese since 1975, when Indonesia invaded this former Portugese outpost in the South Seas. The sovereignty quests of East Asian stateless nations presents challenging issues to any new world order.