Japan’s lower house of parliament approved legislation Thursday that would expand the country’s military role and could see troops sent abroad to fight for the first time since World War II. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling bloc forced the bills through a committee, despite protests from opposition lawmakers who walked out after their party leaders made their final pleas against the bills. Abe is aiming to bolster Japan’s military role in an effort to counter China’s intensifying presence in the region as well as participate in more international peacekeeping initiatives. The bills were drafted after his cabinet adopted a new interpretation of Japan’s pacifist constitution last year, which opponents argue is unconstitutional. The upper chamber of parliament will debate the legislation and vote on it within 60 days.