PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — The United States has agreed to provide Cambodia with more than $56 million in development assistance, the two countries announced.

The aid provides an opportunity to improve relations between the nations, which are strained because of Washington's criticism of Prime Minister Hun Sen's government as authoritarian and undemocratic.

After the U.S. judged Cambodia's 2018 general election to be unfree and unfair, it imposed limited diplomatic and economic sanctions to show its disapproval.

The U.S. is also competing with China for influence in Cambodia, where Beijing has its strongest political foothold in Southeast Asia thanks to generous aid and investment and a lack of criticism of Hun Sen's style of governing.

The joint statement received Friday said $38 million of the aid is for health and education, and about $18 million for agriculture and environmental programs.

It quoted Chin Bun Sean, a government minister and vice chairman of Cambodia' state development agency, as saying the agreement signed Thursday "is an important pillar in promoting and strengthening the cooperation and partnership between the two countries."

The statement said U.S. development assistance to those sectors has totaled more than $253 million since March 2016, and that an additional $11 million was provided to help Cambodia cope with this year's COVID-19 pandemic.

"The U.S. government is committed to continuing its support to the Cambodian people towards sustainable, inclusive, and equitable socio-economic development," it quoted U.S. Ambassador W. Patrick Murphy as saying.