WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has hailed as “historic” a Japanese government decision to loosen restrictions on its military.

Hagel said once Japan’s parliament passes implementing legislation, it will allow the Asian nation to contribute more to regional security and expand its role on the world stage.

Japan’s Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera met with Hagel Friday and discussed a recent Cabinet decision to reinterpret the nation’s pacifist constitution to allow its military to help defend allies.

Hagel said U.S. and Japan should have new guidelines for defense cooperation by year’s end. He said the reforms will allow Japan to be more active in missile defense, counter-piracy and peacekeeping.

The move has drawn sharp criticism from rival China, and a cautious reaction from South Korea, a U.S. ally once colonized by Japan.