At the end of the sixth meeting of foreign ministers from these countries, it was clear that obituaries for an emerging axis have been slightly premature. As Union external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee reeled off the outcomes of the meeting (that lasted 105 minutes at the Billiards Room in Hyderabad House around a U-shaped table, with India at the head, Russia on the right and China on the left), it was obvious to the assembled media that the trilateral meetings have managed to acquire an institutional status. And when Chinese foreign minister Li Zhaoxing played to the gallery (see box), it seemed a far cry from the first hesitant meeting on the margins of the UN in 2002. Li's predecessor, Tan Jiaxuan, had then refused to even pose for the cameras, leaving the Russians to put the best public spin on this enigmatic development.
One year later, it was another story altogether. At the end of the second meeting, all three ministers were caught on camera holding hands, the three new geopolitical musketeers. The picture, somehow portentous, was reflected and debated upon in the world. For the Indian foreign policy establishment, the debate has been settled in favour of this triangular development, and last week's proceedings confirmed there now remained no room for ambiguity.