That "thinly veiled promise not to sue" is backed by the full force of a legally binding promise recognized by the combined weight of the US and Euro legal systems. Microsoft is, by centuries of established law and court decisions, precluded from suing someone from using C# through Mono or any other API or framework.
Moreover, using Java is now riskier than using C#, as Oracle has changed the licensing terms for the language, the API, and the development tools to allocate to itself greater legal control over the Java IPs than Sun did (or which Microsoft reserves as to C#).
EDIT: Just so we're clear, to all the non-lawyers and non-legally savvy HNers: The promise not to sue is itself what is binding, as a consequence of more than two centuries of US and Euro law (see, e.g., the concept of promissory estoppel). The point of the promise was to clarify the permissive license to use Microsoft's IP as it relates to C#.
Then why did they feel compelled to "promise" not to sue:
If you're correct then all they needed to do is point to your statement that no court will allow them to sue.
Have you got a source for that? AIUI under UK law the concept of promissory estoppel only exists in the context of an agreement in which the other party has received consideration. Not having paid MS anything, I don't see how that can apply here.
OpenJDK is GPL.