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BEIJING—Behind China's increasingly fractious relations with its neighbors, which most recently erupted in a territorial row with Japan, is a newly assertive Chinese military whose influence over foreign policy is growing in the run-up to a leadership transition. On Sunday, China and Japan seemed to be edging past their worst dispute in five years, as Japanese leaders called for "mutually beneficial" ties after China thanked Japan's military for evacuating a sick Chinese sailor from a ship in the Pacific on Saturday. But relations between Asia's two biggest economies remained tense as Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan set off on a hurriedly arranged trip to an Asia-Europe forum in Belgium, where he is expected to seek international support for Japan's position in the territorial dispute.