(Bloomberg) -- Chinese leader Xi Jinping was testing the US by flying a spy balloon over the country, and the Biden administration’s response showed weakness, the Republican leader of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said.

“They were testing us — it’s a very provocative shot across the bow of the United States of America,” Representative Michael McCaul of Texas said Tuesday on Bloomberg Television’s “Balance of Power With David Westin.” 

“They wanted a display of weakness, and I think to some extent they got that,” McCaul said. “I don’t know why this wasn’t shot down prior to entering US airspace off the coast of Alaska.”

President Joe Biden, who sent an F-22 fighter to down the alleged Chinese surveillance balloon off the coast of South Carolina, said Pentagon leaders urged him to wait until the balloon was over water to avoid the risk that falling debris would hurt Americans. 

US military officials said they limited the balloon’s intelligence-gathering capabilities as it crossed the country. China has said the balloon was used to gather weather information, not for spycraft.

McCaul said he’s certain that Xi was aware of the balloon’s path, rejecting the view of some analysts that the timing — on the eve of a trip to China that Secretary of State Antony Blinken decided to postpone — was coincidental. 

“The military doesn’t act independently of Chairman Xi,” McCaul said. “I just find that hard to believe, that this happened without his knowledge. And I think it was probably as a direct result of a decision that he made.”

Even though the US and China have satellites capable of gathering intelligence on each other, a balloon like the one shot down on Saturday presents a particular threat, the lawmaker said.

“It’s not really a secret — I mean, we have satellites, they have satellites,” he said. “But a very low-orbiting spy balloon like this one, the lower it is to the surface of the Earth, the more data it can pick up, you know, in a very precise manner.”

(Corrects lawmaker’s committee position in secondary headline of story published Feb. 7)

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